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the road is long, we carry on

Chapter Text

When Matt comes back to school, he can feel the weight of everyone’s gaze on him, heavy and just short of completely overwhelming. He grips his cane tighter, forcing himself to take long, even breaths even if his lungs feel like there’s not nearly enough air around him.

Whenever he gets more than a few feet past a group of people, they immediately burst into whispers, gesticulating wildly as they discuss his accident and consequent disappearance, sharing and shooting down ridiculous theories left and right.

He relaxes slightly when he realizes that no one seems to know anything about his little disappearing act, and he stops white-knuckling his cane enough to feel the blood flow back through his fingers again.

He continues navigating the halls, mentally patting himself on the back for deciding to wander the halls last night - there was no way in hell he’d accept the principal’s (admittedly considerate) offer to show him around the school during off-school hours, but knowing where everything is located makes the whole ‘suddenly coming back to school after going missing for a couple of years’ a lot more manageable.

He doesn’t bother with the locker they assigned to him, breezing past the loitering students and heading straight towards his first-period class.

He’s almost there when he catches a vaguely familiar scent in the hallway, and he falters just the slightest bit as he tries to place it. By the time he gets his bearings, the smell is much closer than it had been before, and he recognizes it only moments before he’s addressed for the first time that day.

“Matty?” Foggy sounds almost the same as he did before (before everything ), but at the same time, there are slight differences in his tone and the way he articulates that signifies just how long it’s been since he’s heard the other speak. He tries not to cringe at the nickname since there’s no way for anyone but Matt to know how much he hates hearing it after Stick left. “It’s- it’s Foggy! Foggy Nelson?”

Matt pastes a smile onto his face and tries to keep his breaths even. “Hey, Foggy.” He can’t think of what to say next, because the last time they hung out Matt hadn’t even been blind, let alone an orphan, and he’s so different from the kid who used to play cops and robbers by the neighborhood playground he doesn’t know what to do. Whatever expectations Foggy has for him, he can’t meet any of them, he's sure of it.

Thankfully, Foggy seems content to keep the conversation going by himself. “It’s been a while, man! I didn’t even know you were back until the rumor mill was going crazy with the news.” He sounds bitter underneath the generic friendliness he typically exudes, and Matt stiffens, his smile cracking at the corners.

They used to be close, but it’s been years since then, and Matt doesn’t owe him anything, let alone a fucking heads up or explanation, especially one he hasn’t even given to the police. He forces himself to appear calm, stilling his fingers even as they begin to twitch with rage and frustration, of how dare Foggy act like he knows anything about Matt or his circumstances, and ignores the devil trying to beat its way out of his chest, out of his fists.

“It has been a while, hasn’t it?” He says instead, almost absently. He adjusts his smile so it’s back to being charming and earnest, and it only turns the tiniest bit vicious when he hears Foggy relax automatically in response. Stick may have been wrong about the bullshit war he always went on about, but there wasn’t a doubt in Matt’s mind that he was right about people not understanding him - about people never being able to understand him.

Foggy opens his mouth to say something, but Matt beats him to it, tired of the conversation and all the ugly feelings it was causing to rise in his chest.

“I should probably get to class. Don’t want to be late on my first day, after all.” He smiles again, waits just long enough for Foggy to stutter out an agreement and jumbled up farewell before turning on his heel and marching towards his classroom, cane tapping just the slightest bit harder than necessary.

He makes it without any more attempts at conversation, and he forces himself through the obligatory how-the-fuck-is-this-supposed-to-work conversation with the teacher before settling into his seat, positioned at the very back of the classroom on the same side as the door.

The class goes by quickly enough, and Matt pays careful attention to everything the teacher says, typing quickly and hoping the sound isn’t as loud to everyone else as it is to him.

Another drawback to training with Stick non-stop for a couple of years was the fact that he had to drop out of school to do so. As a result, he was ridiculously behind on his schoolwork, and only managed to not be in the same classes as a bunch of fourteen-year-olds by studying like crazy during the summer and taking a shitton of placement tests.

Each class passes similarily, everyone leaving him alone in favor of murmuring to their friends about him as though the lack of his sight means he can’t hear people whispering right fucking behind him.

When it’s time for lunch, he doesn’t even bother heading towards the cafeteria, making his way towards the library instead. He exchanges brief but friendly greetings with the librarians, knowing he’d probably interact with them more than anyone else at the school, and shuffles over to a table a decent distance away from the entrance.

He pulls out his computer, plugging in his headphones so he can listen to his physics textbook, typing out notes as the computerized voice speaks. There’s a rising feeling of anxiousness, of wasting his time away as something bad is about to happen, and he digs his nails into his palms until it fades. He takes several long, deep breaths to try and calm himself down, desperate to not have a breakdown on his first day and embarrassed to have gotten overwhelmed so quickly already. He imagines Stick’s voice in his head, instructing him to keep it together and focus, Matty until his breathing evens out. He shakes his head clear of his ex-mentor, turns up the volume to his computer, stretches out his fingers, and gets back to work.

*

All of his classes seem to blend together, a sensory overload of gum being chewed and spit out, fingers tapping at desks and pencils scratching against notebooks, sweat and cheap deodorant causing a violent headache. By the time the final bell rings, Matt’s barely keeping it together, gritting his teeth and hobbling to the nearest bathroom so he can wait out the stampede of students filling the halls.

He takes a few calming breaths, locking himself in a stall and fumbling his backpack onto the hook, unable to do anything but wallow in frustration for how fucking weak he got after a single day in a stupid little high school. He can hear Stick’s voice in his head, hard and mocking as he calls Matt a disappointment.

What’s the matter, Matty? You wanna cry for Mommy and Daddy? Well, Daddy’s dead and Mommy abandoned you as soon as she could, so maybe you should start trying to impress the only person who gives a rat’s ass about you right now and stop acting like a little baby.

He sucks in a shuddering breath but freezes when the door creaks open.

“Matty?” a voice calls, and he nearly shivers before remembering that Stick left  - whoever just entered is someone else.

He stays silent, trying to piece together the person’s smell and sound. No matter who it is he doesn’t particularly want to talk to them, and judging by the nervous shuffling his lack of response is more than a little unnerving.

“Uh, it’s me, Foggy,” they continue, and Matt stills.

Foggy seems to be under the impression that they’re still close despite having had no contact with each other for years, and while Matt wants to break the news to him as quickly as possible, he can’t deny the slight feeling of comfort he has knowing that someone still cares about him. (But does Foggy really, truly care? How can he, when he doesn’t know Matt at all? When he doesn’t know just how broken he is?)

“I get it if you don’t want to talk, but I saw you rush in here and got kinda worried.” There’s a forced chuckle that makes Matt wince, and then Foggy continues. “You seemed kinda freaked, so if there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know, okay?”

And something about that- about the way Foggy speaks to him so gently and worriedly, like he’s some fucking lost child makes him snap. He scrubs at his eyes haphazardly just in case a few tears managed to sneak out, snatches his backpack off the hook, and slams the door open.

Foggy jumps back in surprise, heat jackrabbiting before settling down, but only slightly. “H-hi!”

“I’m fine,” he spits out, only barely managing to keep his breaths even, facing Foggy head-on with the intent to scare, to intimidate, to show him he’s not someone who should be babied. “Thanks for the concern, but I can take care of myself. I don’t need your help.”

Foggy’s temperature flares up almost immediately in response. “I didn’t say you needed my help, Matty-”

“Don’t,” Matt grows. “Don’t fucking call me that.” He shoves his trembling hands into his pockets and tightens them into fists once they’re out of view.

Quiet, and then, “Okay. I didn’t say you needed my help, Matt. But I figured it might make things easier since coming back to school after being MIA is probably kind of hard. Especially with the whole, you know.” His hand waves vaguely, but Matt knows what he means. It’s what everyone’s been thinking and saying, after all, and he should’ve known that Foggy wouldn’t be any different. He’s just like everyone else- everyone else who only cares about him with a sort of detached interest, not at all interested in him even with his broken parts.

Matt grits his teeth, lips twisting into a jagged smile. “Well, I’m fine. So no need to get involved.”

Foggy groans. “Matt, just talk to me!  You’re back, but it’s like you’re a completely different person. You’re all- all stoic and brooding and nothing like the Matt I know!”

“Knew,” he corrects quietly. “Nothing like the Matt you knew.”

“What, like there’s none of that Matt still inside you now?”

Matt laughs, but it’s a hollow sound, full of broken dreams and heartache. He’s nothing like the foolish boy who prayed for his dad to come back, who believed in the good of people and the sooner Foggy learns that, the better. “None. You don’t know what you're talking about, Foggy. Not anymore. I’m not- I’m not the same person I was back then.” You don’t know anything about me is left unsaid, but it echoes loudly in the bathroom nonetheless.

Foggy stares at him for several long moments, the sound of his jaw clenching echoing loudly in Matt’s head. Eventually, he throws his hands up and takes a step back. “You know what? Fine. Be that way, Murdock. I just wanted to check up on you because I thought we were still friends- because I still cared about you, but if you want to do the whole ‘lone wolf’ act then go ahead! But if you ever want to stop acting like such a dick and apologize, I’m at the same address.” And then he storms out of the bathroom, leaving Matt alone with his quickly vanishing anger and fears, overwhelmed with the need for a fucking reprieve from the shit show that was his life.

*

He’s shuffling back to the apartment he conned his way into getting when he hears a faint noise, a tiny animal whining somewhere not too far away.

He feels miserable, legs tired and heart heavy, but he follows the sound to its source anyways, eventually heading down an alley beside a 24-hour laundromat that’s practically dripping with lavender detergent.

The smell of puppy becomes clear even past all the garbage (and the fucking lavender, Jesus), and he walks forward slowly, rummaging through his backpack with one hand for the ham sandwich he hadn’t bothered to eat earlier.

Matt squats down and extends a small piece of ham to the animal, waiting patiently as it notices his presence before slowly inching towards him. After several long moments of sniffing him for any threats, it comes close enough to nibble at the ham, slowly at first and then at a ravenous pace.

Matt smiles despite his sour mood, ripping off some more ham to the puppy, who chows down on it eagerly. It’s some sort of bulldog mix, by the smell of it, although it’s hard to tell under all the filth and grime.

He spends almost an hour with the dog, feeding and eventually petting it gently, as though handling glass. He’s never really dealt with an animal so carefully, before - Stick would have him identify breeds by their smells, the texture of their fur, and the stride of their gait, have him run ahead of attack dogs and the like. To say that he was lost on what to do in his current situation would have been the understatement of the century.

He only gets up to leave when the smell of rain is getting too strong to ignore, and he folds a makeshift shelter with some stray boxes and trash for the puppy. “I’ve gotta go, buddy,” he says quietly. “But I’ll check up on you again tomorrow, okay? Us- us without anyone else, we’ve gotta look out for each other, right?” He stands up and dusts off his pants, giving the puppy one last pet before he gathers up his things and goes to his apartment.

He doesn’t manage to avoid the rain, but he doesn’t mind as much as he normally would, and when he collapses into his bed all he can smell is rain, lavender, and just the tiniest bit of hope.

Chapter Text

For a while, each day is the same: wake up, eat some cereal (or eggs, if he’s feeling extra fancy), walk to school, (ignore everyone staring, pretend to not hear every whisper and taunt, play blind, play stupid ) take notes in class, ask questions after the bell rings, study in the library during lunch, take more notes, walk to Fogwell’s, work out, check on the puppy, walk back to his apartment, study and do homework, sleep, then rinse and repeat. It’s only about four months after he came back to school that something changes.

Considering how the typical drama at Central Park East involves someone getting caught for drinking or doing weed or dating someone new, Matt was the most interesting thing to happen, and thus was the subject of everyone’s attention.

But when Matt steps into school, braced for the darting looks and hushed murmurs and receives absolutely none of it, he’s caught off guard. While he wasn’t quite as ‘new and shiny’ as he had been a few months ago, he still grabbed attention no matter what he did, and yesterday hadn’t seemed to be any different.

He drifts to an unoccupied section of the hallway to listen in on the various conversations going on around him, eavesdropping shamelessly as he tries to figure out what’s going on.

He catches bits and pieces before finally settling on a group that he knows gossips nearly every day (even if they don’t necessarily have the most accurate information).

“I heard the new kid is like, jacked ,” a girl whispers conspiratorily. “I mean, he’d have to be to beat up an entire football team, right?”

“An entire football team? I heard it was the weightlifting team,” a boy pipes in, and is immediately cut off.

“No way. It’s definitely the basketball team.”

“How would one guy beat up an entire team? He probably just pranked the chess club or something.”

Matt snorts, but he has to admit the possibility. His interest has definitely been piqued, though, and he makes a note to keep an ear open for this supposed delinquent new kid. Not a moment later does the entire hallway fall silent, and Matt tenses, trying to figure out what’s going on when he catches a whiff of a new smell that has his head spinning.

“That’s him,” someone whispers, and Matt thinks, Oh.

The guy strides down the hallway without even an ounce of hesitation, heavy boots taking even strides forward as the faint sound of leather brushes against denim and cotton. He’s tall, radiating heat and a don’t-fuck-with-me vibe even Matt can admire. It’s only a few moments before he’s already at the end of the hall, and Matt’s left in shock along with everyone else, gripping his cane tightly before snapping himself out of his daze and making his way to class.

*

The first time they actually interact with each other is during gym class a couple of days later.

Matt’s sitting on the bleachers as he always does, itching to join everyone else on the track and burn out some of the excess energy that’s coiled up in his abdomen, fingers mindlessly tracing the ridges of his cane, which he has folded up neatly.

He zones out for a few moments and is dragged back to the present by the teacher’s shrill whistle. He winces, shoulders tensing up automatically as he waits for the ringing in his ears to recede. Fucking supersenses, honestly.

“Why don’t you sit out for a bit? Talk to Matt- he’s a great kid,” the teacher says, and there’s a grunt in acknowledgment before footsteps head in his direction and Matt realizes oh shit, he’s  Matt.

Eventually, there’s the shuffle of feet only a few paces away from him, and it’s quiet for a few moments before a low voice speaks.

“The teacher told me to sit here. Hope you don’t mind,” the stranger says, and Matt’s tempted to not bother replying, but he catches a whiff of that familiar scent and he freezes, throat suddenly inexplicably dry.

“It’s fine,” he manages to say. “I’m, uh, Matt. Matt Murdock.”

The new kid hums. “Frank Castle,” he replies after a moment.

Matt can feel the other’s gaze on him, and while it’s a significant stare it isn’t nearly as burdensome as he’s used to. He isn’t sure if Frank knows that he’s blind - they’ve never interacted before or even gotten within several feet of each other, and he doubts the other is the type to try and catch up on a school’s gossip. They sit in silence for several long moments before Matt decides to speak.

“Why’d you get asked to sit out?”

Frank shrugs. “Was getting too worked up, or something. It’s fucking bullshit, considering this is gym class, not nap time.”

Matt nods. He can’t really empathize with having to be pulled away from a good workout or release of aggression since the only person who had ever seen him work out was Stick, and the man had always been determined in drawing more and more out of him, uninterested in any limits he may have had. But that’s a bad path to go down so early in the day, so he clears his throat and does his best to do the same to his thoughts.

It takes a moment, but soon enough Frank is asking a question of his own. “Why’re you sittin’ out? You injured?”

Matt’s lips twitch up in a smile of sorts, then immediately fall back down. While it’s always amusing to witness people’s reactions when they learn that he’s blind, he’s more than a little worried about how Frank would react. The other boy doesn’t seem like the typical bully type, despite his rough way of speaking and intimidating presence, but Matt doesn’t want to test his assumptions. “I’m blind, actually,” he says after a moment. “So no physical activity for me.”

Frank’s heartbeat stutters in his chest, most likely finally recognizing the glasses for what they truly are as opposed to a high schooler’s pitiful attempt at seeming cool and mature. “Huh. What’s up with your hands, then?”

Matt freezes. All too suddenly does he remember the bruises on his knuckles, skin torn and probably an angry shade of red, impossible to brush off with a half-assed excuse like he does for his scars. He’s gotten lazy when it comes to taking care of his hands, and he hasn’t bothered to put on gloves for over a week’s worth of workouts by this point. “What do you mean?” he asks carefully. He tries to discretely cover them up but he knows the damage has already been done.

“Your knuckles are all torn up,” Frank says easily, heart steady and loud in his chest. He doesn’t seem particularly alarmed or on edge, but Matt can hear the way his fingers twitch before he shoves them into his pockets.

Matt doesn’t bother replying, cursing his past self for being so careless, and Frank lets him be after that; the ensuing silence that surrounds them is neither stifling nor comfortable.

Matt lets himself fully analyze the other boy, taking in the way he slouches to the way he plays with a loose string from his shorts. The smell of worn leather clings to his skin, probably from wearing the leather jacket from earlier so often. There’s also the slightest hint of blood, areas on his body where heat’s gathered more tightly, signs of bruising and injury.

Matt wonders absently how much damage Frank did to whoever caused those injuries, but keeps himself from asking despite how curious he is. The other is a mystery wrapped in countless unknowns, and Matt wonders how long it’s going to take before he figures out all the answers.

*

It’s a shitty Thursday morning when Matt comes across Frank again. He had a nightmare (yet again), one of stupid, fucking Stick , that left him groggy and disoriented for the rest of the morning. He forgot to pack himself something to eat for lunch, barely making it to school on time and nearly getting lost several times by loud noises disorienting him and leading him astray. His senses wonky from the lack of sleep, he mentally prepares himself for another one of those Bad Days. Back when he was still with Stick, the only way to get his senses “recalibrated” was through training- a fight. (Of course, that was probably because Stick was a hard-ass who simply forced Matt to deal with it that way, but still.)

Naturally, then, he gets a little excited at the first opportunity of a fight.

The school day only just ends, and there’s a kid being shoved around by the bleachers. (Matt worries for the public school system.) Matt’s already halfway there when the bullies suddenly go silent, then,

“What do you  want?”

There’s the familiar swish of fabric and the faint scent of worn leather, and Matt leans forward to ensure he doesn’t miss any of what’s about to happen.

“You wanna let the kid go?” Frank asks. His posture is relaxed and heartbeat steady, but there’s not a doubt in Matt’s mind that he’s ready for whatever the bullies might try and throw at him.

“You wanna mind your own business?” someone else spits, and Matt shifts so that he’s further out of sight of Frank, listening carefully to the way each of the bullies squares up, pushing their victim one last time to the ground before marching up to Frank.

For all their bravado, they’re all terrified, no doubt already far too aware of Frank and his aggressive reputation. Matt smirks a little at their fear, folding his cane up and slipping his glasses into their case, placing both inside his backpack which is sitting on the ground a few feet away - just in case everything goes a little sideways.

Sure enough, it’s only a few seconds later that one of the bullies throws a sloppy punch which Frank easily dodges, and Matt listens eagerly at the fight. With every passing second his heart rate rises just the slightest bit; It’s been far too long since he’s been in an actual, proper fight , and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t itching for one.

It’s only after Frank takes a surprise blow to the head that Matt finally steps in, practically vibrating with energy that he has no problem with spending on the bullies. He notes Frank stumbling for support against the bleachers, groaning as he clutches his head. He probably won’t be much help, but it’s not like Matt needs it, so he jumps into the fight without a moment’s hesitation.

He’s probably a little more vicious than the situation calls for, and his knuckles are probably going to be aching something serious for the next few days, but none of it’s enough to wipe the grin off his face as he knocks someone else to the ground and dodging another half-assed swing.

Most, if not all, of them, are down by this point, but he continues to beat them down anyways, relishing in the adrenaline coursing through his veins and the fear flooding theirs.

He can taste copper on his tongue, the faint sensation of dried blood trickling down from his nose, most likely from when he had taken a hit to it earlier. But the pain only helps to push him farther, his senses making the world as sharp as glass all around him. For a few blissful moments, he feels at peace. And then he crashes.

The bullies are scattered on the floor around him, the tang of blood thick in the air and the sound of bones creaking and shifting, echoing in a way they’re never supposed to attack his senses, weighing him down. All too quickly does he become aware of what he’s done.

Beating a few high school bullies mercilessly for enjoyment, what kind of monster is he?

(A devil, his mind supplies. How could you ever forget?)

He stumbles away from the scene, barely remembering to grab his backpack as he goes, and only just manages to make it into a bathroom stall before he’s hurling, gasping and crying at what he’s become - well, that’s not quite right. The worst part is that it means that Stick was right - that he’s just some stupid boy with too much anger and not enough soul, a weapon that has to be controlled, that has to be owned.

He can only hear the pounding of his own breaking heart as it shatters and aches, and he heaves and heaves into the toilet bowl (and hopes that maybe he can throw up the devil that’s been wrapped around his heart for as long as he can remember).

*

He spends more time than usual with the puppy, taking stuttering breaths that catch in his throat on every inhale as he pretends that he isn’t shaking like a leaf.

Eventually, when he can finally breathe normally and he no longer feels so unsettled and like he’s going to shake out of his own skin, he sits back. The puppy follows him, stumbling forward to keep getting petted, and Matt manages a shaky smile as he concedes to the dog’s wishes. It’s late evening, and he can feel the slight chill in the breeze, familiar with the city and its weather enough to know that the sun has begun to set.

It’s only then that he realizes he never managed to feed the puppy, and he stands up immediately. Since he doesn’t have any food to give, he checks his wallet for some cash, relaxing when he finds a five-dollar bill. It’s not the best amount for a meal in New York, but it should be enough for something small.

He tells the puppy to wait, then quickly heads off to a nearby convenience store. He doesn’t bother to bring his cane or glasses - he’s far enough away from the school that he shouldn’t have to worry about anyone he knows seeing him, even without considering the time.

He shuffles in, quickly using the (quite frankly disgusting) smells of the products to pick out a small package of spam, which he places on the counter along with his money.

The cashier gives him a grunt in lieu of a greeting, then pauses. Matt can feel the weight of their stare in the same way he can with everyone else at school, and he hopes desperately that whatever’s causing their hesitation they decide to share with the class, quickly , please and thank you.

“You’re about a dollar seventy short, hon,” the girl - college-aged, if Matt had to take a guess - says. She sounds vaguely sympathetic even though she also sounds tired as shit, so he supposes he must look worse than he thought.

“Uh, I don’t-” he shuffles through his pockets, but the most he finds is a pile of lint and dust, “I don’t have anything else.”

There’s a familiar smell, and then someone steps around him to place something onto the counter. A single bill and four coins- exact change. “Here, I got you.” He’s too stunned to say anything, and by the time he’s come to his senses, the money’s been picked up and counted, already in the register.

The cashier’s hair shifts, probably nodding or shrugging, and resumes ringing him up. “You want a bag?”

“No, thank you,” Matt says, trying very desperately to hide his knuckles in his pockets, shifting his face (which probably still has some blood on it, fuck) from, of all people, fucking Foggy.

“Alright. Have a good one.” She slides the spam back over, which Matt quickly takes, shoving it and his hand back into his pocket.

He mutters a short, “thanks,” before exiting the store. He waits a few feet away from the entrance for Foggy - there’s no way the other boy showed up just to help pay and then leave. He wants to talk.

They stand together in silence for a few minutes before Foggy finally does just that. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

Matt sighs, rubbing a hand over his face, both because he’s tired, thanks, and also hopefully to remove any dried blood (that Foggy hasn’t already seen by this point). “Thanks, Foggy. I’ll pay you back tomorrow.”

“That’s not what I-” Foggy groans. “What’s up with that, anyway? Going into a store without your cane or glasses? Did you even know what you were buying or did you just grab the first thing you could find? Why are you even out this late by yourself? It’s dangerous, Matt!”

“Why? Because I’m blind?” He does his best not to roll his eyes, but he’s pretty sure he doesn’t quite succeed.

“Uh, yeah? And also, let me see- because we live in Hell’s fucking Kitchen and it’s almost 11? And you’re alone?”

Matt backs off, sheepish. Foggy may not understand everything about him and his disability, but it didn’t mean he was constantly undermining him. “Yeah, I- sorry. You’re right, but I can take care of myself.”

“Really? What were you going to do if I hadn’t shown up? Try to shoplift or something? Go without your weird processed meat? Beg the cashier until she let you take it anyways?”

“I would’ve left without it,” Matt hisses, then visibly pulls himself together. “Just- you showed up for a reason. What is it?”

Foggy makes a noise which Matt knows means he’s rolling his eyes. “Never one for small talk, are you, Murdock? Alright, honestly? I was complaining to one of my friends about you, and she basically told me you may be an ass, but it doesn’t mean I should give up on you so easily. Even if I was only best friends with Matt Murdock, aged ten, I was still best friends with Matt Murdock. And I pinky promised him we’d be best friends forever, so. If you want to get rid of me, it’s not going to be as easy as being an annoying piece of shit for a couple of days while you’re clearly- you know.” Foggy shrugs. “Goin’ through it.”

Matt huffs out a laugh. Foggy takes in a breath like he’s about to speak but doesn’t, and Matt’s eyes narrow, suddenly a lot less amused. Sure, it was kind of nice to hear all that, but if there’s some sort of taunt or jab that follows it, Matt’s going to go home tonight and deal with getting into two fights in one day. “Out with it,” he spits.

“Nothing gets past you, huh? My friend also said that it kind of seems like you could use a friend right now. And honestly? Looking at you right now, I have to agree. Why are you out here by yourself? Where are you even staying?”

And well, fuck if that’s too many questions that Matt is definitely not ready to answer.

“Right, well, I gotta go. Thanks for- you know. See you tomorrow.” Matt’s honest enough with himself to admit that he flees, hightailing it out of there and down the street until he finds his way back to the puppy.

When he gets there, he pauses. Someone’s already there, someone Matt’s come across before but can’t quite place, playing with the puppy and feeding it scraps. He makes to escape and head back to his apartment, but he accidentally kicks some nearby trash in his haste and the stranger’s heartbeat jolts before they turn around.

“Murdock?” Frank fucking Castle says.

“Uh, hey,” Matt greets. Uh, fuck, he thinks.

Chapter Text

“Uh, what- what are you doing here? Do you live nearby?” Matt asks.

Frank hums noncommittally. “Nah, I was just in the area.” He pauses. “What’re you doing here?”

“I, uh. I feed the dog since it’s on my way to my place.” He’s glad he kept his hands in his pockets even after leaving Foggy; he can’t tell if Frank saw or realized that he jumped in the fight he was in earlier that day, but if he didn’t Matt doesn’t want to give himself away by his bloody knuckles.

“Is that so.” It’s more of a statement than a question, and Matt does his best to stand his ground even if part of him screams to cower and hide. “Right, well, you dropped these.” He extends one of his hands, then seems to realize Matt can’t really tell what it was he supposedly dropped, or where it is. “I’m, uh, going to put it in your hand, if you could…”

Matt nods. “Right, yeah.” He puts a hand out and feels the slight chill of metal against his palm. He closes his fingers around the object, humming when he identifies it as his glasses. “Oh, I didn’t realize I dropped them. Thanks.”

Frank is silent, instead wrapping a hand around Matt’s wrist. Matt jolts in surprise at the contact, and he murmurs out an apology before turning it gently, revealing the split knuckles and most likely a faint stain of blood he wasn’t quite able to wash away earlier, and Matt freezes.

It’s been far too long since anyone has touched him without the intent to hurt, and the warm touch makes something within him ache. “What are you doing?” he asks, and he hates how shaky his voice sounds. He’s stronger  than this, dammit. He shouldn’t be getting all weak from one simple touch. Stick would hate- oh. Huh. Maybe a little weakness is okay if it means spiting Stick,  he thinks absently.

“Earlier,” Frank speaks quietly, “by the bleachers. With those bullies.” He takes a deep breath, and when he speaks next Matt can hear the wry smile shaping his words. “You kicked some serious ass, Murdock.”

Despite feeling more than a little pleased at the compliment, Matt doesn’t reply. He doesn’t know what Frank is planning on doing with the information, what he could  do. So he keeps his lips sealed and waits for Frank to make his goal more clear.

But before Frank can say another word, a small whine reminds both of them of the puppy they both came to the alley for, who by this point has gotten tired of their conversation and wants more attention.

“My bad, Max,” Frank says, sitting down so the dog could jump on his lap, and proceeds to smother it with affection.

“Max?” Matt asks.

“Yeah. He needed a name, and it was the first thing that came into my head, so.” Frank shrugs, winces when he realizes Matt can’t (or isn’t supposed to be able to, at least) see it, and he adds, “I just shrugged.”

Matt nods. “Right. Well, it’s late, so I’m gonna go.”

Frank stands up when he makes to leave, moving carefully so he doesn’t accidentally hurt the puppy. “Hey, hold on.” He rummages around through his pockets, eventually pulling something out. He takes one of Matt’s hands again, and Matt’s far too distracted by the feeling of warm, calloused hands to realize what’s going on until Frank has already drawn back. “You could use it. And I gotta give something to the guy who helped cover my ass, so.”

“... Is this a candy bar?” Matt tilts his head to face Frank curiously. 

He traces his fingers over the object in his hand and stops when he finds a small piece of paper alongside it. He touches it carefully, tracing out the ten numbers contemplatively.

“And my phone number,” Frank says nonchalantly, but Matt can hear the uptick in his heart and the way he swallows nervously. Even still, his hands remain steady and Matt can’t help but be a little impressed.

“Uh,” Matt says. “I don’t- I don’t have a phone.”

“Hey, if you want me to leave you alone that’s fine, you don’t have to lie-”

“No, I literally don’t have a phone,” Matt cuts him off quickly. The last thing he wants after his trainwreck of a day was to alienate just about the most interesting person he’s known so far.

Frank coughs awkwardly, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Oh. Well, that sucks, I guess.”

Matt shrugs. “It is what it is.” He pauses, trying to save the ruined moment as best as he can with his quite frankly abysmal social skills. “But if you wanted to hang out or talk whenever it’d, you know. Be cool.”

Frank’s heart jumps, and he does a little breathy exhale that has Matt’s cheeks feeling warm. “Yeah, sure. I’ll see you around, then.” He shuffles around for a moment, before, “Actually, did you want me to walk you home or whatever? Obviously you can take care of yourself, but still. I owe you.”

“Uh, yeah, that’s fine by me. I live this way.” He gestures loosely and waits as Frank gives Max a pat on the head in lieu of goodbye before starting to go.

They walk side by side in silence for a while, the crisp nighttime air and electric noises of the city their only company. Eventually, Frank breaks the silence.

“I’ve gotta ask, what’s with the blind thing?”

Matt’s eye twitches a little at the complete and utter lack of tact. “What do you mean?”

“Like, if you’re blind, then how do you fight? You got some superpowers like the Hulk or something?”

“Not quite like the Hulk.” Matt grins. He contemplates if he should be completely honest with the other, but realizes quickly that Frank already knows (has seen) the darkest side of him, so there’s really no point in hiding. “Chemical accident. Took my sight, but cranked up my other senses to the max, and an old blind guy took me in and taught me how to fight. Taught me about what I could do in spite of my disability, how I-” He stops. All too suddenly is he dragged back into the stupid fucking dojo Stick trained him in, voice cold and harsh and painful as he told him exactly what he was, and what he would become.

You may think of yourself as the devil, but all you are is a weapon, Matty. Somethin’ that’s gotta be controlled since you clearly can’t handle yourself.

A finger poking his side drags him back to the present.

“You okay?” Frank asks. He sounds concerned, like he actually cares about how Matt feels, and it’s so jarring compared to how everyone’s been treating him for the past few years that he nearly laughs, because of course  the kindness is coming from someone with a reputation of being something of a high school gangster- otherwise his life would make actual fucking sense.

“Yeah, I just- got distracted.”

Frank hums. “Right. Well, you got any other powers? Enhanced speed or super healing or something? ‘Cause you were fucking fast, and I saw you take more than a few heavy hits but keep on going.”

Matt chokes out a laugh. “No, that’s just- that’s just me.” He grins, just a tad bit on the sharper side. “The pain part’s a mixture of Catholicism and my training, though.”

“A Catholic blind ninja.” Frank whistles. “Damn, Murdock.”

“Damn yourself, Castle. What’s your story, anyway? You’ve got quite the reputation.” They’re not too far away from his apartment, and Matt hasn’t even started to chip away at the enigma that is Frank. So he’s curious, sue him. It’s either fixate on Frank or dwell on how shitty his life is and how he has no idea how to get it together, so he’ll fixate as much as he wants to, thank you very much.

Frank shrugs. “Not much to say. I’ve got a temper and a thing against bullies, so when the school had enough they kicked me out and I started going to CPE. That’s about it.”

While his heart remains true, Matt doubts that’s really all there is to him. “Did you really beat up a whole sports team, though?” he prods. If he’s honest, it’s one of the things he’s been the most curious about. How good of a fighter is he, exactly? And why’d he do it?

There’s a short bark of laughter that startles Matt out of his thoughts, as warm as Frank’s hands and sounding like it’s soaked in honey. “Nah, just a few guys that didn’t know how to back off. That’s what people say about me?”

It’s Matt’s turn to shrug. “Well, it’s either probably exaggerating stories about you fighting someone or how hot you are.”

Frank laughs again, but the sound comes out more choked than anything else. “That so?” he wheezes. “Fuckin’ hell, Murdock, warn a guy before you spring that kind of shit on him.”

“What, like you didn’t already know?”

“Well, no one’s really said it to my face, before.” Frank’s face is hot, and Matt can’t help but get distracted by it and how it helps paint the features of his face for a moment before he gets himself together.

Matt sniffs, faux annoyed. “Well, now someone has.”

“One of a kind, aren’t you, Murdock?” He sounds almost… Fond, gaze heavy on Matt but without the usual judgment and assumptions that usually accompany such attention. Just Frank, looking at Matt and seeing something good.

“This is me,” he says instead of having to answer, gesturing to his building’s door. It’s not the fanciest of places, but for a place in Hell’s Kitchen, it’s pretty nice. And it’s paid for by money he stole from Stick, so he’s pretty happy with it.

“Alright, well. I’ll see you at school tomorrow then, I guess.” Frank makes an aborted gesture like he isn’t sure whether he should go for a fist bump, a high five, or a weird side hug.

Barely managing to suppress his grin, Matt extends a fist, which Frank meets with a relieved sigh. “Well I won’t be seeing you ever, but yeah. If you wanna hang out during lunch or clubs, I’m down.”

“Blind joke, huh? Classy.” There’s a long, lingering moment where it seems like there’s something else Frank wants to say, but nothing happens. “Well, talk to you later, then. Enjoy the kit-kat. Hope you’re not allergic.”

And then he’s gone, leaving Matt alone on the doorstep with a million questions and only a handful of answers.

“Goodnight, Frank,” he calls after him. If his heart beats a little faster as he does so, that’s for him to know (and Frank to never find out).

“G’night, Murdock,” Frank shouts back. “Get some better jokes pronto, will you? And put some fuckin’ ointment on your hands!”

The nagging brings a smile to Matt’s face, and he yells an affirmative at Frank’s slowly retreating form, waiting until he’s completely down the street before turning and heading into the apartment building.

*

He plans to save the chocolate, but when he wakes up breathless, freezing cold and panting as he grips his hands to feel for the phantom blood that drips between his fingers, he collects himself just enough to stave off a panic attack and carefully eats half.

It’s sweet and a little bit mushy since his apartment is on the warm side, but it calms his nerves more than a single piece of processed sugar has the right to be. He contemplates eating the other half, before placing it aside with shaking hands. He might need it later- right now Matt finds it far too easy to fall into a dreamless sleep, thinking of a laugh dripping honey, warm hands saturated with the scent of leather, and the sweet, sweet taste of (finally, finally, finally) no longer feeling alone.

Chapter Text

The next day at school is... Interesting, to say the least.

It starts off normally enough, and Matt feels vaguely energized even despite having some trouble sleeping the night before, so his senses aren’t overwhelmed by any of the constant sources of input that surround him. It’s when he steps into his third-period class that his routine is broken.

There’s someone sitting at his desk - on his desk, technically, and Matt silently freaks out for a moment before he recognizes who it is.

“Frank,” he greets as he slides into his chair, tilting his head up to face the other boy.

Frank’s heart stutters in his chest at being addressed, but his voice is level when he greets Matt back, “Murdock.”

“Fancy running into you here.” Matt gestures vaguely at his desk. “Something going on?”

Frank shrugs. “Just stopping by. How’d you know it was me?” His voice lowers slightly, even though he had already been speaking at a fairly low volume. If anyone’s listening in, it’d be impossible for them to hear the conversation unless they were right next to them. “Does it have to do with your weird senses or whatever?”

“Yeah. Everyone’s got a few distinct traits that I use to recognize them.”

“What- do they smell funny or something?”

Matt’s laughing before he can help himself, only vaguely aware of how Frank’s heartbeat falls out of rhythm again at the sound. “Something like that, yeah. It’s- everything, really. From the way they walk and move, to how they sound, to yes- how they smell.”

“Huh. Guess all this B.O.’s probably a pain to deal with, then, especially during gym, right?” Frank’s voice is light, and something about how he doesn’t dwell on Matt’s abilities, how he doesn’t seem fazed or wary about being near Matt even as he learns more about him, puts his heart at ease.

“It’s not too bad. I was trained to deal with my senses too, so it only gets overwhelming when I’m not feeling well.” Matt shrugs. It’s probably a bad sign that his senses have gone on the fritz several times already by this point in the school year, but he’s going to blame it on teenager hormones for as long as he can.

“Oh, that reminds me. Some blond guy, think he knew you as a kid, was talking about trying to track you down during lunch or something. And I’m pretty sure nearly everyone knows you hang out in the library instead of the cafeteria.”

Matt freezes. He figured, based on their conversation yesterday, that Foggy was going to make efforts for their relationship, but he hadn’t really expected it to be like this. “Oh. I- okay. Thanks for telling me.” The words leave his mouth, but he’s already lost in thought, mind running a mile a minute as it considers each of the thousands of ways Foggy learns more about him and hates everything about who he’s become.

Everything around him gets muted, and it feels like he’s adrift in an ocean during a storm, stuck in the water but so far down he can’t find the strength to even try swimming to the surface. And then there’s a hand on his shoulder, and everything focuses on that point of contact, and he’s sucking in air that he didn’t know he wasn’t getting.

“Sorry, I-”

“Don’t apologize for shit like that, Murdock. It’s my bad for springing it on you like that.” Frank’s voice is firm but not unkind, a sort of fierce kindness that Matt clings to desperately.

He’s quiet for a few moments, floundering for what to say - what can you say in a situation like this? - before eventually settling on, “Thanks.”

Frank shrugs off his apology easily. “It’s nothing. Do you, uh, want company during lunch? If you want me to get him to leave you alone or something too, it’s no problem.”

Matt shakes his head immediately. “No, that’s fine. I need to talk to him at some point, so I might as well do it now.”

There’s a heavy pause, and it’s a while before Frank speaks again. “I don’t know your backstory or your history with this guy, but don’t do something that you’re seriously uncomfortable with, even if you think it’s only a matter of time. But if you’re stressed out because you think it’s gonna make your situation go from bad to worse or something, stop fucking yourself over like that.”

Matt balks. “What do you mean?”

There’s the sound of a hand running over hair, nearly distracting Matt from Frank’s next words. “Things don’t stay bad forever, you know? There’s that quote: everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay-”

“Then it’s not the end,” Matt finishes. “I’ve heard it before.”

Frank shrugs. “Yeah, well, maybe there’s some merit to it. Don’t give up before you even try. Maybe things will get better, maybe they won’t. But don’t assume you’re stuck with a shitty life from beginning to end.”

Matt can’t think of anything to say, so he settles for a nod. Frank chuckles quietly, hesitating before reaching forward and ruffling Matt’s hair.

“Think about it,” he says. “And if it goes poorly we can go hang out with Max and teach him some tricks.”

*

It’s finally lunchtime, and Matt can hear Foggy coming the moment he starts heading his way, and for a moment he contemplates finding somewhere to hide to avoid the conversation, but he remembers what Frank told him, and he stays put.

He still believes that with the way he is now, Foggy doesn’t know anything about him (and wouldn’t want to be even relatively associated with him if he did), yet he can’t help but still hold onto a little bit of hope that the opposite may be true. Maybe Frank was right, he thinks. Maybe bad things don’t always stay bad, maybe there’s still a chance- for me, and for everything else that’s lost and broken. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

He bides his time waiting by working on his homework, forming the outline for a research paper as he listens to each step Foggy takes until he’s at the doorway to the library.

Foggy pauses, giving himself a nearly-silent pep talk that has Matt softening immediately, familiar with the way he shakes his head and takes in a sharp inhale of breath once he’s done talking, the same as he did back when they were kids. But the way he steps through the doorway is confident and sure, determined even despite his fears, and that- that’s something new.

Matt’s still stuck on it, and he nearly misses it when Foggy finally addresses him.

“Hey, Matt. It’s Foggy. Can we talk?” His voice is more solid now too, compared to before, and Matt recalls overhearing conversations about the debate team, where Foggy was apparently one of the most impressive members.

“Sure.” Matt turns to face Foggy head on- whatever conversation they’re about to have is probably one where as much transparency as possible is probably best. “What about?”

“Just- to catch up, I guess.” He takes the seat across from Matt, dumping his backpack to the side, which means he probably expects to stay for a decent amount of time.

“Uh, right,” Matt replies. What is he supposed to say? He doesn’t think it’s a good idea to be honest about what he’s been up to since they last saw each other- the only reason he didn’t lie to Frank was that Frank had already seen evidence of everything that had happened to him. He had already seen the end result, so Matt figured it didn’t matter much if he got the gaps filled in as well. Instead of having to say anything else, Matt grabs a dollar and seventy cents worth of change from his bag, holding it out to Foggy. “For yesterday.”

Foggy sighs, shaking his head slightly if the slight swish of his hair and clothes is any indication, but accepts the money anyways. “Okay. I get that you’ve got this weird, lone wolf attitude going, and you’ve built up walls around you so high I don’t think I could jump over even with a ladder, but still. If you could try and be even just a little open with me when I’m trying to reach out to you, that’d be great. I don’t expect you to tell me everything that happened to you since elementary school, but just- small things.”

“Like what? How I dealt with my dad’s death all alone? Why I went missing and why I came back?” Matt says. He regrets the words as soon as they leave his lips, if not for the bile it brings to the back of his throat at the memories then for the way Foggy physically recoils.

“What? No, Matt, Jesus. What the fuck?” he hisses.

Matt scrubs a hand over his face. “Fuck, I shouldn’t have- I’m sorry, Foggy. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“I would say it’s fine, except it’s really not. What happened to you, Matt?” He says it like he’s desperate for an answer, but both of them know he won’t - can’t - answer. “It’s been months since you’ve been back, and I haven’t seen you smile once. And honestly? That’s the scariest part about your little emo transformation. Not that you’re all reserved and glued to your books, which is still kind of concerning, to be honest, but because it’s like you don’t have anything that makes you happy anymore.”

“Maybe I don’t,” Matt says simply, and he grits his teeth to ignore how much that truth hurts.

“Well, then I’ll help you come up with something,” Foggy replies, his voice and heart steady like he actually believes that, and it means more to Matt than he’ll ever admit. “I’m not going to press or assume, but I doubt you’ve tried Capizzi’s.” He rummages through his backpack before pulling something out and sliding it across the table. “Here’s their card. They opened kinda recently, but they’ve got some of the best pizzas in the area, and I guarantee you that I’ll get to see one of those famous Murdock smiles once you try it.”

Matt shrugs faux nonchalantly, but there’s no denying how he’s halfway to smiling already, feeling infinitely lighter at the friendliness and kindness that Foggy’s giving him so easily. “I wouldn’t say they’re famous, but alright.”

“Great!” Foggy enthuses. “You down to get some pizza today, then? We can do some other time, too, but my friends are more likely to try and barge in the more in advance we plan to go.”

And maybe it’s the stupid teenager mood swings, but he feels on top of the world, which is why he decides to say, “It’s fine if they join us. Wouldn’t want them to miss out on such great pizza, right?”

Foggy’s quiet, heart hammering overtime in his chest before a breathless laugh bubbles out. “Right. Sure, yeah, I’ll let them know. Wanna meet outside the gate after school?”

“Sounds good,” Matt agrees easily. “See you then.”

“Fair warning, though- they can be a bit… overwhelming, I guess. But I’ll try to get them to not be super annoying or anything.” Foggy informs him. “They’re not, like, evil or anything, but… Yeah. Just so you know.”

“Well, I’m not really the fuzziest person either, so I’m sure it’s fine.” He shrugs. “As long as they don’t get anything gross on their pizza, I won’t have any problems.”

Foggy laughs. “Yeah, yeah. You say that now, Murdock, but just you wait until you experience the terrifying thing that is breathing the same air as Marci Stahl.” He says Matt’s last name with a similar sort of warmth as Frank does, but there’s still something different that makes him feel more content and relaxed whereas when Frank does it, it just makes him… Well, he doesn’t actually know. But they both say it like they’re smiling, and it makes Matt’s lips quirk up in response.

“We’ll see about that,” he says. “Lunch is- probably almost over, so. I’ll see you later, then, I guess.”

Foggy nods, quickly followed by the sound of skin smacking against skin - probably Foggy hitting his forehead. “I just nodded, sorry. And yeah, sounds good! I’ll, uh, catch you later.” He gathers his things up, fingers drumming against his backpack strap in nervousness, but his heartbeat remains steady so Matt gives him a reassuring half-smile.

It’s not even close to what Matt expected to happen, but he certainly won’t complain when he feels much lighter than he has in years, and even if Foggy forgot the card with the pizza place’s information doesn’t exactly have braille on it, the card’s the most tangible form of hope he’s had in a long time, so he holds it tight and prays for the best.

Chapter Text

Frank manages to catch him before the school day ends, matching pace with him as Matt navigates the hallway between fifth and sixth period.

“How’d it go?” he asks without preamble. One of his hands is holding his backpack strap, keeping it from sliding off his shoulder, while the other is fiddling with his phone. Frank’s hands seem to always be moving, keeping in motion in some way or another no matter the situation - they don’t tremble, which Matt thinks is an important distinction. It’s not from anxiety or nerves, but rather something like a slight excess of energy or doing something to pass the time. Matt finds himself wondering if there’s ever a moment when they remain completely still.

“Not too bad.” Matt shrugs and dutifully rolls his eyes when Frank laughs, warm honey seeping through the sound just like it did before. He doesn’t say ‘I told you so’, but he doesn’t have to. They both know it’s only because Frank talked to him earlier that the conversation didn’t crash and burn from the get-go.

Instead, he says, “Good. Everything settled, then?” And he sounds actually curious, like he genuinely, truly wants to know, and it makes Matt’s heart ache something fierce with how much it means to him.

“Yeah, we’re going to get pizza after school. At, uh, Capizzi’s, I think. Have you heard of it?”

Frank shakes his head. “Nah. I think you forget I’m still the new kid, Murdock.” The smirk that is undoubtedly on his face is audible in his words, playful and teasing and charming all wrapped up in Frank’s low voice.

“My bad, Castle,” he teases. There’s that jump in Frank’s heart again, but it’s back to its steady beat before Matt really recognizes it.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll be hanging out with Max for a while today, so if you need to stop by after your little pizza meetup, feel free to.”

“I’ll come,” Matt promises. It’s strange how much he means it, how much he wants to go, even if everything goes well and he doesn’t need a pick-me-up. He isn’t sure why exactly that is, but he doesn’t dwell on it for too long.

Frank chuckles, shoulders shaking slightly. He’s smiling, and for a moment Matt wishes that he could know what it looks he almost forgets to pay attention to what Frank’s saying. “You afraid I’m gonna steal him away or somethin’?”

“Like you’d be able to,” Matt gives a little haughty sniff. “I found him first, don’t forget. Like he’d just go with you so easily.”

“Hey, we really bonded in the short time we had. I bet he probably likes me as much as he likes you.”

“Dual custody, then?” Matt jokes, and it’s only when Frank freezes that Matt realizes how it sounds. Frank seems like a good guy, but Matt’s gone straight into uncharted territory for most teenage boys, putting them in a situation that almost makes them out to be a couple, even if it was a joke.

But before Matt can hastily backtrack, Frank manages to find his words. “You haven’t gotten rid of me yet, Murdock. We’re co-parenting that dog, you hear me?” He doesn’t sound as steady as he did before, cadence and confidence both slightly weaker, but there’s honey seeping through his voice and Matt feels a warmth fill him up from his bones to the tip of his ears.

Matt tries to will the blush off his face, and he shrugs in what he hopes is a relaxed manner. If only Stick could see him now. “Guess so.”

*

“Matt! Over h- oh fuck I’m an idiot, hold on.” It’s just the tiniest bit amusing to hear Foggy keep belatedly remembering that he’s blind, although Matt doesn’t have too long to dwell on it before Foggy’s come up to him and is standing in front of him. “Alright, Matt, last chance to back out before dealing with my friends. They promised to behave, but you never know with them.” He doesn’t sound so wary of Matt now, and it’s almost like when they were kids messing around at the park, before years of separation and secrets pushed them apart.

“I’m fine, Foggy,” Matt reassures him, and Foggy beams.

His smile falters just a second after, heart beating nervously in his chest before he responds, “Great! Can you, like, follow me, or do you need me to do something..?”

Matt takes longer than what’s probably expected to answer. He hadn’t really considered what he would do if someone were to ask him something like that - foolishly pessimistic, he assumed no one would care - so he goes through his options as quickly as he can. If he asks for help, he’d be relying on Foggy and strengthening whatever relationship they’ve got going on right now (which means it’d hurt even more when Foggy will inevitably leave), but if he denies it he might seem a little too capable than a blind guy should be. He sighs. “If you could just let me hold onto your elbow and warn me when there are things like stairs and crosswalks that would be fine.”

Foggy shuffles his things for a moment before sticking out an elbow. “Uh, here. I’m gonna grab your hand now,” he narrates, before carefully taking Matt’s left hand and placing it on his elbow. The way he touches Matt is unsettling in its gentleness, too soft and too light in a way Matt thinks is supposed to be comforting but really just makes him feel like he’s barely there.

Matt readjusts the grip until his hand’s where it’s supposed to be, the same way he was taught to right after he first lost his eyesight, all those years ago. “Thanks.”

“No problem. If you ever need to tap out or anything, I won’t judge. Just- stay until the pizza’s finished, though?”

“Okay,” Matt agrees easily. Worse comes to worst, he can always speed eat whatever slices are remaining and hightail it out of there. He just hopes the pizza doesn’t taste too bad.

“Great! Then, uh, let’s go. I’ll do introductions once we’re all together.” Foggy’s strides are slightly uneven, but not enough to trip Matt up, and it’s not long before three pairs of footsteps meet theirs.

“Foggy! Please tell these losers that Vine is not  overrated, and they need to get their brains checked immediately.” A bright voice is followed by the fragrance of pine and coffee, the faint residue of cooking oil and bacon grease clinging to bits of fabric and skin. They’re warm, in the same way that Foggy is, a gentle flame his senses can take in like a breath of fresh air.

Foggy laughs brightly. “I would, but I know that you’d use it for your argument advocating for TikTok too, so no can do, Karen.”

“Boo,” Karen replies, and there’s an awkward silence where Matt presumes there’s a lot of meaningful gazes being passed around until someone nudges Foggy.

After being prompted, he quickly begins the introductions. “Okay, so, uh, the guy directly in front of you is Brett - Brett Mahoney, remember? - and on his left is Karen Page, and on his right is Marci Stahl. They’re all juniors.”

“Nice to meet you,” Matt says automatically, “I’m Matt Murdock.”

“The infamous Matty, huh?” Another girl - Marci, then - says, and Matt can’t help the flinch he makes at the poorly disguised sneer in her words.

He grits his teeth when he realizes that Foggy most definitely felt it from where they’re still touching each other, and does his best to smile in a way that doesn’t show how much he’s starting to regret agreeing to this. “It’s a pleasure.”

“You’re a junior too, right?” Karen asks quickly, and Matt relaxes at the subject change.

“I am. I’m, uh, a bit behind in some of my classes, though,” he admits.

Foggy jumps into the conversation, hand making an aborted gesture he takes to mean as ‘leave the poor blind kid alone please’, mostly directed towards Marci. “C’mon, quit the school talk. Let’s go get some pizza and talk about something interesting  - Matt, what are your opinions on anchovies?”

*

Once they’ve got the pizza sitting in front of them (half with pepperoni, half with spinach and onion - Foggy, apparently, is the only one to like anchovies), the conversation flows much easier, Foggy and Karen leading most of the conversation with Marci and Brett piping in. Matt only really talks when he’s prompted to, but he thinks he’s having an alright time nonetheless.

Eventually, there’s a lull in the conversation, and Brett clears his throat. “Alright, Matt, I gotta be honest. We’re all pretty curious about you suddenly going blind and missing, and while you don’t have to share with us, I’d be lying if I said we wouldn’t prefer you to.”

“You’re kind of the biggest mystery Central Park East has ever seen. Frank Castle’s a close second, though,” Karen notes thoughtfully.

Matt’s fingers twitch, and he sits on them quickly, hoping no one noticed. “Um. What exactly am I supposed to say?”

Foggy’s silent, seemingly just as lost as Matt is, but Brett speaks up again and saves them from having to sit with an unbearably awkward silence.

“Like anything, man. Where’d you go when you went missing-”

“Were you kidnapped or did you just ditch town?” Marci cuts in.

“Why and how you came back, that sort of thing,” Brett finishes. “Just, you know, something .”

Matt can feel their expectant gazes on him, so he clears his throat and releases one of his hands to rub at the back of his neck. “Uh, I wasn’t- I wasn’t kidnapped. It was mostly a misunderstanding that got blown out of proportion, I think. I just- moved. And then came back because I missed the city, I guess.” He doesn’t think it counts as kidnapping since he went with Stick willingly, although he hadn’t really known what he was agreeing to when Stick first came to him, either.

“Did you move to the suburbs or something?” Foggy asks.

Matt hesitates before eventually shaking his head. Keeping his lies and omissions as close to the truth as possible was probably best, anyways. “No, but it wasn’t Hell’s Kitchen.”

“Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker,” Foggy sighs. “See, Karen? Once this city’s got its claws in you, you’re stuck here. Still glad you moved?”

Karen just laughs and shakes her head fondly, long hair sweeping through the air in little swaying motions, kept mostly in place by the baseball cap she’s wearing. “I’m here to stay, Foggy, stop trying to kick me out.”

“How am I supposed to when you keep sending me TikToks at three in the morning?”

“You realize she can still do that from Vermont, right?” Marci laughs. She’s much gentler than Matt had initially thought, mindful in that quiet way you only notice if you’re looking for it, and while her words are sharp and loud, her hands are kind as she slides Karen and Foggy’s plates further back onto the table each time they nearly smack it off.

“My point remains,” Foggy insists. “Matt, yes or no: do you like TikToks?”

Matt tries not to look as awkward as he feels. “What’s, uh- what’s a TikTok?”

“Oh! It’s a social media platform where people can basically upload whatever kinds of videos they want. I personally enjoy ones with lipsyncing, animals, or jokes that go along to a song,” Karen explains.

“It sounds… Interesting,” he says eventually. “I’d ask you to show me one, but I don’t think it’d be the most accessible.”

And there’s  the awkward silence Matt had been wanting to avoid.

“This pizza is really good,” he tries. “Thanks for introducing me to it.”

Foggy perks up immediately “No problem! They deliver, too, which is great.”

“No, hold on, we gotta talk about this,” Marci says, and Matt tries to hold back his wince when everyone else’s heartbeats skyrocket.

“Talk about what?” he asks weakly.

She gestures in the air, bracelets clinking together as she makes a grand swooping motion. “Your whole backstory  or whatever. How’d you go blind? Where did you really go - specifically - for those years you were supposedly missing? What’s your deal? You wanna be friends, you can’t keep so many secrets.”

Matt stills, hands already clenched into fists before he even realizes it’s happening. “Who said I wanted to be friends?” he asks, and he sounds far harsher than he had intended, but he’s sick and tired of stupid half-truths and not being able to tell the truth - of not wanting  to.

“Matt-” Foggy tries, but Matt waves him aside.

“Thanks for the pizza. Let me know how much I owe you and I’ll pay you back.” He stands up quickly, ready to leave. He tries to pretend that he isn’t shaking, heart stammering in his chest as emotions bubble up and threaten to swallow him whole. It’s because he’s so caught up in trying not to drown that he only recognizes the sounds when it’s too late.

“Fuck, I gotta-” Matt estimates the distance between him and the door, but there’s no way he’d be able to make it out in time, and the bathroom’s even farther away. He folds up his cane and places it on the table, closest to Foggy, and grabs Karen’s baseball cap off her head and places it onto his own. He keeps his glasses on to provide just a little bit more of coverage just in case, even if they are somewhat distinctive. He can always get another pair. And either way, he really doesn’t have any other options, so he’ll just hope that will be enough to hide his identity from everyone else.

Matt squares his shoulders and ignores Foggy’s questions and concerned little noises. It’s literally his least ideal situation, but Foggy and his friends are going to see him let the devil out. 

“This is a robbery!” Five men, presumably masked, barge into the store, each holding a handgun, but Matt notes two of them having a knife strapped to their belt and one with a switchblade and an extra gun. “Give us everything in the register and nobody move or we will  shoot you.” There’s a hint of nervousness in their heartbeats, but they’re far too steady for this to be their first gig, and Matt shudders because they’re serious about carrying out their threat.

“What the fuck ,” Karen and Brett hiss.

“Fucking shit,” Marci whisper-shouts in response.

“Hey, you! Fucking teenagers! Shut the hell up, unless you want to eat a bullet.” One of the robbers waves a gun at them, heartbeat ticking up when he sees Matt standing. “Hey, you! Sit down!”

Matt remains standing, and Foggy tugs furiously at his sleeve. “Listen, buddy, I know you’re upset, but please just sit down .”

“Sorry, Foggy,” he murmurs. “You guys might want to look away.” He takes a step out of Foggy’s reach - and closer to the robbers -  keeping his head facing down as the gunman who had just spoken starts to approach him.

“You deaf or just stupid? Sit. Your ass. Down .” He moves to push Matt backward into his seat, and Matt waits until the best moment possible before he moves.

The hand on his chest is only there for a fraction of a second before Matt’s twisting, grabbing his attacker’s arm and pushing against his shoulder, hard . He can barely hear the actual damage that happens with the way the man screams, but he doesn’t have any time to dwell on it before he spins the man back around and slams an elbow against his throat, kicking him aside before he rounds on the robber closest to him.

He ducks a sloppy swing - it seems like most of them aren’t comfortable with the weapons they’re wielding, even if they are willing to use them - and returns it with an uppercut of his own, landing several punches to the man’s chest and face before slamming him against the wall with a final hit.

One of the robbers is still trying to collect the money, apparently intent on accomplishing what they came to do, so Matt throws a decorative vase at his hand, lips twisting into a smile when he hits his target dead on and the man lets out a pained yell. He throws a knife off a nearby table at the man not even two seconds later, grazing his fingers and effectively keeping him from grabbing the bag of cash.

That’s three taken care of and two left to go, and Matt turns to deal with another one before he freezes.

“Take another step and blondie gets it!” There’s the telltale click of a safety being turned off, and Matt isn’t sure if he hopes that the hostage is or isn’t someone he knows before he inhales sharply and he’s breathing in the rancid and bitter scent of Foggy’s fear.

He places his hands up in a placating manner, making sure his head is still facing downwards. He makes to shift forward, but then the gun is pressed firmly against the side of Foggy’s head, eliciting a horrible, scared sound from his friend. He stays still.

“Not such a hero now, are you? Now back off and let us take our loot.” He drags Foggy with him, walking backward with his back to the entrance of the store, as the other robber helps the one with the injured hand gather the money.

The tiniest of whimpers spill past Foggy’s lips, and Matt’s heart breaks - what’s the point of his abilities if he can’t even protect the people around him?

Matt sucks in a breath to steady himself, and he catches a whiff of leather a split second before the man holding Foggy is smacked on the head, gun quickly and expertly yanked out of his grip within a mere couple of seconds.

“Heya, Red,” Frank greets calmly before grabbing the man’s shoulders and slamming his head against the door.

The man falls to the ground, unconscious, and Matt doesn’t waste a moment before turning on the remaining two robbers. He slams the uninjured man against the counter before dragging him to an unoccupied table, grabbing a pizza pan from a terrified couple, shaking off the remaining slices on it, and smacking it against the robber’s face one, two, three, twenty times. He tosses it aside long after the man goes limp, stalking forward towards the final man.

“Who the hell are you?” the man asks, nearly tripping over his own feet in an attempt to put some distance between them.

Matt shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. You wanna turn yourself and your buddies in or do you want to try and take me?” He takes another step forward and is both satisfied and distraught when the man’s heart seems to be consumed by fear.

“I’ll turn myself in! I will, I swear, I will! Please stop .”

His heart doesn’t rise any more from its panicked pattern, so Matt backs off. “Good.” He takes a wobbly step backward. The other patrons are watching in shock, employees shaking as they whisper exclamations under their breath, Foggy is still scared (the robbers are all taken care of - Foggy’s scared of Matt ), and it’s all too clear that who he is - what he is - is obvious to everyone in the store. “I’m gonna-” he starts, then cuts himself off as he darts out through the door, carefully avoiding Foggy and nearly sprinting down the street, running with burning lungs until his legs give up on him, and he tumbles into an alley.

Almost immediately he retches, coughing up bile and disappointment, and it’s all he can do to keep himself from collapsing into the pile of his vomit for several long minutes. Eventually, he drags himself to a wall, which he leans against for support. He closes his eyes, waiting until his breath evens out before he opens them again. He peels off Karen’s hat and his glasses, holding them in his hands for a moment before tossing the glasses into an open dumpster.

He drags himself to his feet and nearly topples over, steadying himself with the wall again as he tries to regain his bearings. He takes a wobbly step forward, but his legs lock up on him and he’s tipping forward to meet the pavement, except then there are hands grabbing his shoulders and holding him up.

Frank helps him stand straight easily. “Jesus, Murdock. You alright?”

“Peachy,” he rasps out.

“Yeah, you sure look it.” Frank puts one of Matt’s arms around his shoulders, putting one of his own around Matt’s waist. “C’mon, there are some places to sit not too far from here.”

Matt groans at the movement, and he swats at Frank with his other hand. “Don’t feel like moving.”

“Sucks for you, because you’re getting there one way or another.”

It takes a little bit, but eventually they arrive, although Matt isn’t sure if it had taken them a minute or twenty.

Frank eases him onto what seems to be a park bench, although it’s blessedly spared from the usual amount of weird smells and textures on most of the ones in New York City. He stops when he’s carefully putting Matt’s arm down, taking Matt’s hand with his own and pulling it close to his face.

“What is it?” Matt asks. He doesn’t bother to keep his eyes open or to face Frank- he’s tired and worn out and doesn’t think he can really put up with any more surprises.

“You’ve got a burn,” Frank murmurs. He traces where the marks are on Matt’s skin, warm hands tingling against the sensitive areas, and Matt shudders. “Do you know where it’s from?”

Matt shakes his head but realizes right as he does when it had happened. “Back at the- the pizza place.”

He whistles lowly, taking Matt’s other hand as well and cradling the both of them. “The pan? Damn, Murdock. You were holding onto it pretty tightly for a decent bit back there.”

“So it seems,” Matt notes absently. Besides the point of contact between him and Frank, it almost feels like he’s floating, mind and body adrift even as he seems tethered to the bench.

“I’m going to lecture you about acting like a dumbass later, but for right now, try and take a nap. You look like you’re going to crash any second.” Frank sets his hands down, leaving Matt’s feeling suddenly and absurdly cold all of a sudden.

Matt raises a single eyebrow at him. He manages to scrounge up enough focus to examine the area around them and is pleased to not find anyone else nearby. But even still, he wasn’t exactly a fan of falling asleep, completely unprotected, in a public space, especially  without a pillow or something to lie down on.

“Don’t give me that look, Murdock. Scoot your ass down that way,” he says, while physically pushing Matt further down along the bench, “and put your head on my lap if you have to. I’m not gonna leave while you’re sleeping, alright?” There’s that feigned nonchalance in his voice again, and Matt would probably fall for it if he couldn’t hear Frank’s heart jump up and spike when Matt does just that, slowly laying down until his head is resting on Frank.

Matt would normally try and figure out what it meant, but he’s too caught up in leather and honey and warmth, and he’s drifting off before he even realizes it. “Thanks, Frank,” he manages to whisper. “I hope I didn’t cause you much trouble.”

“It’s fine. ‘S not like you were lookin’ for trouble either, right? So quit stressing and just sleep already.” Frank sounds exasperated but unbelievable fond, so Matt nods agreeably, falling asleep to a warm hand carding through his hair and another cradling his hands gently.

Chapter Text

Frank walks him to his apartment again, neither of them saying a word until they reach the door.

Frank shuffles a little on his feet. “You gon’ be alright, Murdock?”

“Hopefully.” Matt shrugs. “Thanks for walking me back.”

“Least I could do with you still looking so worn out. I’ll, uh, see you tomorrow, then.” He sounds like he wants to say something more, inhaling as though to speak but never following through.

Matt waits for a while, but when Frank still doesn’t say anything, he sighs. “See you.” He turns and enters the building, monitoring Frank as he stands there for a few moments before heading off.

He washes up quickly, scrubbing at his skin until the scent of blood and fear no longer linger to it (there’s blood on his face and hands, but splatters of it are on nearly every bit of skin that had been uncovered earlier, so it takes him a while, and even then it feels like he’s soaked head to toe in crimson), getting ready for bed as exhaustion makes him move slower and slower.

“Get it together,” he hears Frank murmur to himself when he’s several blocks away, “focus on what you’re supposed to do.”

There’s something about that which is unsettling, like something out of place, but it’s not alarming enough to startle Matt into wakefulness, and he’s out like a light within seconds.

*

The instant Matt walks through the school’s doors, Foggy is there.

“Heya, Matt!” he says with false cheer so forced Matt winces, “Let’s talk.”

Matt nods and lets himself be led down several hallways until they’re outside by the very same bleachers Matt had fought those bullies at (the very same bleachers Matt had let the Devil out for the first time since Stick), and Matt cracks a wry smile at the irony.

It’s just the two of them, and Matt’s nerves ease slightly. He’s going to have hard enough of a time trying to explain everything to Foggy, let alone people he only met once. Matt waits for Foggy to speak, to ask whatever questions have undoubtedly been plaguing him since yesterday, not wanting to say anything that Foggy doesn’t want to hear.

Eventually, Foggy asks, “Are you okay?”

Matt blinks. “What?”

“Are you okay? Like, are you injured, on the verge of a panic attack, or something.” Foggy doesn’t sound pleased, but he’s not scared, so Matt doesn’t really care.

“I’m fine,” he says, mostly honest. He’s too tired to be freaking out either about the fight yesterday or Frank’s strange comment, and the bruising of his knuckles and burns on his hands are relatively minor.

There’s a heavy pause where Matt can feel Foggy’s judgmental stare. “I don’t know if you can tell,” he says slowly, “but I’m giving you a very dubious look right now. Gimme your hands, Matty.”

Matt flinches but acquiesces, obeying before he even has a chance to think about it. It makes him tense, realizing just how obedient and pliable he becomes from a simple nickname, but it’s neither the time nor place to be thinking about that.

“Sorry,” Foggy says, and then goes quiet as he inspects Matt’s hands. He whistles lowly, careful not to touch any of the injured areas, but still turning his hands around to get an idea of the full extent of the damage. “You call this fine?”

Matt shrugs because yeah, obviously, and Foggy sighs.

“Alright, whatever, that’s a conversation for another time. I just- what the hell, Matt? I didn’t want to push you because you kept getting all defensive and freaked out, but I think I deserve some sort of explanation. If you’re blind, how did you- how did you do what you did yesterday? Are you even blind?” His voice rises as he speaks, and he’s on the cusp of shouting by the end of it, voice echoing through the empty field.

Matt takes a deep breath, calming his nerves and anger as they both simmer just under the surface of his skin. “I’m blind. I can’t see anything, no light perception, nothing. But the accident that took my sight enhanced my other senses, so I can still navigate everything fairly easily. I was… Trained to be able to do that, and to fight. But what you saw yesterday has always been a part of me. I-”

“Is this about what your grandma said?” Foggy cuts him off. “Because I thought it was pretty clear that she was a senile old woman who had no idea what she was talking about.”

“No, she was right. And my training only helped to prove how right she was. I’m not a good person, Foggy. Maybe I was back then, but I’m definitely not one anymore.” Foggy’s efforts are sweet, but Matt knows better. Foggy only caught a glimpse of the Devil- Matt’s the one who’s been living with it for years.

“Bullshit, Matt. If you had evil inside of you, you would’ve let me get shot. Or you would’ve killed those men, or you’d be fighting people who aren’t criminals. But that’s not what you did, and that has to mean something.”

Matt laughs, but it’s a broken sound that causes goosebumps to rise up on Foggy’s skin. “How do you know it’s not just that I need something from you? Or maybe I’m planning on killing them later, and I’ve already hurt plenty of innocent people?”

“Because your dad wouldn’t have wanted you to,” Foggy says simply, “and that’s not the kind of person you are. No amount of ‘training’ can change a person’s fundamental nature - not yours, at least. Not with how much your dad means to you.”

And what is Matt supposed to say to that? Foggy hit the nail right on the head - the only reason Matt hadn’t given in to Stick’s orders to hurt innocent people who got in the way or thrown a knife just a little bit higher was because he couldn’t let down his dad any more than he already had. He would fight, fine, but he would fight like his dad. Maybe flawed, maybe for the wrong people, but for the right reasons. He would hit who needed to get hit, but no one else.

“Got you there, didn’t I?” Foggy asks quietly with a somber voice, and it’s only then that Matt remembers that it’s been years since his father’s death and his own subsequent disappearance, and that Foggy was kept in the dark about most of it. Matt had worked through his grief by fighting until he could no longer move, his body a mess of mottled bruises and slowly-bleeding cuts, but neither he nor anyone else truly got any closure from it. Foggy probably has no idea how Matt handled it, and Matt would laugh if he wasn’t so tired.

“Yeah, you got me,” Matt replies after a moment. He had forgotten, too caught up in feeling alone and isolated, like no one could understand or care about him after Stick, that for a while Foggy had always known him better than himself. Even if he had changed since then, that had to count for something. “You still got me, Fogs.”

*

The final bell rings, and Matt slowly makes his way through the school, stopping when he passes by Frank’s classroom. Frank is relaxed at his desk, hands still and slack at his sides as he observes the students walking around him with calm disinterest. Yet the moment Frank notices Matt, his fingers start twitching, and he plays with a loose string in his shirt as he gets up and makes his way over.

Normally Matt would ignore it, attributing it to nerves or excitement or (foolish) interest, but Frank hasn’t shown any of the signs for those, heartbeat steady and breaths even whenever they interact, no different than with anyone else. Matt thinks, distantly, that maybe he should have been wondering why Frank had that excess energy, and what he was always ready to do with it.

All of a sudden, Matt realizes that Frank had never been surprised that he could fight, never caught off guard when Matt used his senses despite him never explaining the extent to which they worked. (Last night, he only talked to himself when several blocks away. Why did he wait so long?) Yes, maybe he was just incredibly hard to catch off guard, and maybe everything was just a series of strange coincidences, but it almost seemed like Frank already knew about all of it, like he was expecting it, and the thought turns his stomach to lead.

The only person who knew was Stick. Did Frank know Stick?

It’s a shot in the dark, and so incredibly unlikely Matt wants to dismiss it, but he can’t get the thought out of his head, and he darts away before Frank reaches him. His breaths are coming shorter and shorter, and he weaves through a crowd of students until he reaches the doors, slamming them open and walking as fast as he can away.

He hears Frank’s noise of confusion like a gunshot, and it makes him wince as he tries not to stumble, feet catching in cracks on the sidewalk.

Then there’s a familiar voice calling out to him, and Matt feels like he could cry in relief at how much comfort he feels from the presence alone.

“Matt!” Foggy catches up to him easily, and his bright tone turns worried when he sees Matt up close, face splotchy and lips pulled in a tight grimace. “What happened?”

“I don’t- I can’t- Foggy,” Matt whispers. “Foggy, I want to go home.” He needs safety and comfort even though he doesn’t deserve either of those things, and right now Foggy’s his best chance at getting them. He doesn’t know what he’d do if he has to go through this right now without them.

Foggy nods furiously, already tucking Matt’s hand into his elbow. “Just tell me your address and I’ll get you there, okay?”

Matt shakes his head, laughing desperately. Even besides the fact that he’s trying to avoid Frank and Frank knows where he lives, there’s an entirely different problem. “That’s not home. I don’t- it’s lonely and big and I hate it, Foggy, it’s always just me and it’s too much like before, and I can’t- not right now-”

“That’s okay, buddy, deep breaths,” Foggy says encouragingly (if a little frantically). “Breathe with me, okay? In, out. In, out.”

Matt does his best to follow along, breaths stuttering with each inhale and exhale, but it’s better than nothing, so he grits his teeth and tries to bear it just a little bit longer.

“Okay, not your place. Would you be okay coming to mine, then? It’s the same as before, so about a ten-minute walk away from here.”

“That’s- that’s fine,” Matt rasps. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet, buddy.” Foggy nudges him a little, and they start walking off, a little shaky at first but getting into a comfortable rhythm after a minute or so.

It feels like seconds before they’re at the same doorstep Matt would go to every day after school as a kid, and the familiarity of it eases some of the tension in his body.

“Come on in, buddy. You want me to hide you from Mama Nelson? If not, she’s probably going to attack you with a few dozen questions,” Foggy says. His tone is carefully neutral, probably not wanting to influence Matt’s decision.

“I wouldn’t mind talking to your mom,” Matt answers after a beat, and the small exhale Foggy lets out tells him he made the right choice.

“Alright then. No take-backs.” He raises his voice to shout, “Ma! Matt’s here!”

A pause, and then, “Matt? Matt Murdock?” Socked feet rush towards them, and the small gasp is all Matt gets as a warning before he’s being hugged, squeezed so tight he feels like he could burst. It’s nice, though, warm and comforting and something he hasn’t had, he realizes, since his dad died.

“That’s kinda sad, dude,” Foggy says, and Matt winces when he registers that he said that out loud.

“Let me take a good look at you, dear,” Mrs. Nelson says, pulling back while keeping her hands on his arms. “Oh, look at that face! What a handsome boy you grew up to be, Matt!”

“Thank you, Mrs. Nelson.” There’s a flush working its way up the back of his neck that, given Foggy’s quiet laugh, doesn’t go completely unnoticed.

“You look far too thin, though, what have you been eating? Where are you staying? Are you being fed, dear? Here, let me give you some meatloaf, it’s fresh out of the oven.” She gently leads him down the small hallway, and the aroma of the food is mouthwatering. “Say ah, sweetie.”

He obeys and is rewarded with a large spoonful of meatloaf, cooked and seasoned perfectly, just like she made it before. “It’s delicious, Mrs. Nelson. Thank you.”

She scoffs. “What’s with that ‘Mrs. Nelson’ nonsense? You’re not a child anymore, you can call me Anna. I’m still fine with you calling me ‘Ma’ too, you know.” Matt freezes, and she falters. “Of course, I don’t mean to undermine any guardian you may have, I just-”

“It’s fine,” Matt rushes to assure her, “I was just- caught off guard.”

“Oh. Good, then.”

“Right,” Foggy cuts in. “Matt and I wanted to catch up, so we’ll be in my room. You can talk to him some other time, okay?”

“Fine, fine. One more spoonful, Matt.” He opens his mouth and she feeds him again, humming with what must be a pleased expression on her face. “Have fun, you two!” She waves them off, turning back to something boiling in a pot, and Foggy leads Matt back down the hallway and up the stairs.

Eventually, they’re sitting across each other on Foggy’s bed, and the silence is deafening.

“Do you wanna explain to me what all that was about?” Foggy asks.

Matt sighs. “Okay, so I mentioned being trained, earlier.”

“You did.”

“The person who trained me… His name was Stick. Or that’s what he had me call him, at least. He was blind too, and I thought- I don’t know what I thought. But he took me in after my dad died, told me I was special and I could make a difference if I was willing to work for it, and I believed him. He taught me how to handle my senses, which were… Bad, at the time. Really bad. And while he was teaching me that, he trained me in different fighting styles, saying he was preparing me for some kind of war. A war that I was supposed to help him win.”

Foggy nudges him when he goes quiet. “And then?”

Matt swallows tightly. “I never wanted to fight in a war, and even besides that, I thought he was spouting horseshit. But I wanted to learn, and I had nowhere else to go, and I thought- I thought he cared. About me. So I stayed, and I did what he told me to do, and nothing else. But I needed - wanted  - a father, and he wanted a soldier. So he left, and I came back here, and you know the rest.”

“What happened earlier, though?”

And this… This is where it gets awkward. “You know Frank Castle?”

“Uh, obviously. I don’t think there’s a kid in the area who doesn’t know who he is.” Foggy scoffs, and then freezes. “What does he have to do with this?”

“We kind of- we were - are? - friends. I think,” Matt says in a rush. “I helped him once and since then, he’s helped me when I needed it. It seemed like he cared.”

“Like Stick ‘cared’?” Foggy asks, and there’s cold, righteous anger in his voice that startles Matt, because that anger is for  him .

“No! Or, I don’t know. I didn’t think it was, but sometimes he- he acts a certain way, and it might just be my paranoia but I can’t stop thinking that he knows Stick.”

Foggy stills. “How so?”

“Like- him knowing certain things about my abilities, and me fighting, even though I hadn’t really told him about either. I don’t- I don’t want to assume, because-”

“Because what if it’s just a coincidence and you end up losing one of the few friends you have?” Foggy finishes for him. “Jesus, Matt.”

Matt just shrugs in response.

“Alright, well, here’s what we’re gonna do: there’s this guy-”

“We?”

Foggy flicks his arm. “We’re in this together, buddy. You’re my friend, I told you that. And friends help each other with their problems, okay?”

Matt nods dumbly.

“Good. Then back to what I was saying: there’s this guy, a senior at our school, lowkey looks like a stoner dude, but apparently he’s really good with computers. So we either ask him real nice or we bribe him with food to look into Frank, and if he checks out, everything’s fine. But if we see something suspicious, we’ll know to be careful. Sound good?” Foggy waves his hands around as he talks, voice determined but optimistic.

It’s almost too easy, but what’s the harm in trying? Matt had forgotten about how nice things were with Foggy, how they could be stuck in a flood but Foggy would just say, ‘Don’t worry, I know how to swim. I’ll keep you above water, I promise. It’ll be okay,’ and it would be, every time.

“Sounds good,” he replies, voice hoarse.

“Awesome. Anyways, I got some cheese puffs that expire next week. Share ‘em with me?”

Chapter Text

When Foggy said the guy looked like a stoner, he meant it. Matt doesn’t need a functioning pair of eyes to be able to take in the frizzy, out of control hair and weird smell that’s far too herbal to be comforting. Matt can’t even attribute it to the trees nearby- it clings to the older boy too much to be coming from anywhere else. At least they’re meeting outside, and the fresh air helps to air it out some.

“You said you need what from me?” the guy asks. He sounds incredulous, and Matt supposes it is a fairly strange request, but if they could just skip ahead to the part where he agreed, that’d be great.

Foggy rolls his eyes. “Look into someone for us. Figure out their history and all that. Look, just- you can do it, right?”

The stoner scoffs. “Yeah, I can do it. But that’s a major invasion of privacy, dude. You’re in debate- you know  you’re literally asking me to break the law, right?”

“Yeah, I know.” Foggy groans. “Will you do it?”

“I don’t know, man. Who’re you trying to dig up stuff about, anyway? Unless you’ve got a case of amnesia and it's for yourself, I don’t think I can really help you.”

“Is that relevant? Like, do you need to know that to find this stuff out? Cause if it isn’t, I don’t think we really need to tell you.”

“You know, you two are acting real suspicious. How about if I look into you guys? You especially- Matt Murdock, right? You’ve got quite the mysterious past as far as I’ve heard. How’d you like me researching that?”

Okay, that’s it. Matt’s tired of staying quiet.

He takes two large strides forward, grabbing the older boy by the collar of his shirt and heaving him against the side of the building, quickly putting an arm against his throat to keep him in place. Maybe it’s being threatened, with the possibility of everything he’s ashamed of (everything he’s terrified of), or maybe it’s the constant, growing fear that one of the few people he cares about has never truly cared about him, but the devil slips out through the cracks and Matt lets it.

“You can either do this for us,” he hisses, “or not. But if you won’t, then stay out of it. If you threaten either of us again, you won’t be able to use your hands for the rest of your life. Do you understand?” The boy is quiet, gasping for breath from the pressure against his throat, and Matt pushes harder. “I said, do you understand ?”

“Matt! Let him go, Jesus!” Foggy yelps and he urgently tugs at Matt’s arm. Matt resists for a moment before acquiescing.

“Holy shit,” Stoner Guy wheezes. “I fucking get it, fuck .”

Matt takes a step back, chest heaving and fingers shaking. He can feel the weight of Foggy’s gaze on him, but he ignores it, taking another couple of steps back until Foggy is between him and the other boy.

“Right. No more threats then, okay?” Foggy asks, voice only slightly shaky. (Is it weird that Matt’s proud?) “Like the man said, though, you either help us or you don’t, but don’t get in our way if you don’t.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got that.” Stoner Guy coughs some more. “Fucking hell, man. You got some major issues, you know that?”

Matt shrugs; he’s aware.

The boy sighs. “Could I get an apology?”

Matt’s halfway to snarling, but Foggy places a hand against his chest. Fine, then. “Sorry,” he mutters, not sorry at all.

“I- you know what, I don’t even care anymore. Tell me who you want me to look into, alright?”

“Frank. Castle.” Foggy’s voice is steady, but Matt can hear his friend’s heartbeat thunder in his ears like he’s right beside it. He makes a mental note to thank Foggy for helping him (after everything, especially) even when it puts him in uncomfortable and undoubtedly nerve-wracking situations.

“Holy shit-” Stoner Guy gapes at them, then clamps his mouth shut. “Hol’ up. Why’re you curious about him? Aren’t you, like,” he gestures to Matt with a sweeping hand motion, “dating him?”

Matt balks. He does not blush, that would be inappropriate and totally humiliating, he doesn’t. “I’m not- we’re not- I don’t-”

“He means ‘no’,” Foggy interrupts. He makes a thoughtful noise. “I think.”

“We’re not dating,” Matt hisses at Foggy. “I’d tell you if we were, I swear.”

Foggy shrugs. “You never know with you sometimes. But nah, they’re not, so can you dig up some info or not?”

There’s the sound of skin rubbing against hair- a nervous tick if Matt’s ever known one, but the boy’s nervous heart keeps its pace (relatively) steady. “Yeah, yeah, alright. I’ll do it.”

“Cool! Should we like, exchange numbers or something? Or are you just going to track us down when you’re done?”

“Gimme your phones and I’ll put my number in,” Stoner Guy replies after a moment.

Foggy hands his phone over, and looks at the new contact once it’s given back. “‘Micro’?” he reads aloud.

“Like a nickname,” Stoner Guy says by way of explanation. “Matt, your phone?”

Matt blinks. “I, uh, I don’t have one.”

Both Foggy and Stoner Guy - Micro, Matt supposes he should call him - are carefully silent, but the uptick in their hearts and the slightly uncomfortable shifting they do give them away.

“That’s- kinda sad, dude,” Foggy says eventually.

Matt shrugs. He only stole so much from Stick - only grabbing the clothes which Stick had ‘found’ (read: stolen or obtained through other not-quite-completely-legal means) for him while under his care and enough cash that fit in a small drawstring backpack - and he doesn’t intend on wasting valuable food and rent money on a phone. Not to mention the only phones he knows of with any sort of accessibility features are the new, flashy smartphones, and there’s absolutely no way he’s going to shell over that much money to talk to only a handful of people.

“Right,” Micro says when no one else says anything, “I’m gonna go to class now. I’ll start as soon as I can, but it’ll take time to find everything, so be patient. Capische?”

“Capische,” Foggy and Matt answer obediently.

Micro nods. “Cool. Catch you two later then. And chill out, Matt. For like, literally everyone’s sake. Thanks.” He darts away before Matt can make a retort, rushing into the building as other students start to file in from buses and the parking lot.

Foggy scratches his head. “I honestly can’t tell if that went well or not.”

“Well, he agreed, didn’t he?” Matt asks.

“Sure, but after you pinned him to a wall and threatened him!”

Matt gapes at him. “I- he threatened me first!”

“Are you seriously using that as an excuse? C’mon, Matty, it’s like-”

Matt twitches a little. “Foggy,” he says, in the most neutral tone he can manage, “can you please, please  stop calling me that.”

One beat, and then two. “Yeah, that’s my bad, I keep forgetting.” Another beat. “Are you… Willing to tell me why that bothers you? I’m pretty sure it’s not because you feel like you outgrew it or something.”

Matt gulps. It feels like the world disappears for a second, everything distorted and out of touch, too far and too close, his ear echoing with a scoff and words carrying a sneer, C’mon, Matty, get up. Do you want to keep whining like a baby, or do you want to fight? Let’s hope you’re better than your old man, considering where he ended up. Aww, you angry? But you still can’t dodge the most obvious punches. Get it together, Matty. Get up. Get up now, you fucking baby.

“Matt?” Foggy’s voice is quiet, tentative. “You okay?”

“I’m- fine,” Matt rasps out. His throat feels rough and dry, senses slightly skewed, and he squeezes his eyes shut to try and regain control. He hates how easily everything slips from him at a few words or an old nickname. He feels so fucking weak.

“You kinda disappeared there, buddy. You sure you’re fine?”

Matt shrugs. “It was just-” he catches a heartbeat - close by, how long has it been there - and it’s when he realizes how familiar it is that he freezes.

“What is it?”

Matt keeps his voice low as he answers. “Frank. Around the corner of the building, listening in. He definitely wasn’t here when Micro left, but besides that, I don’t know when he came.”

Foggy gulps, the sound loud enough that Matt would probably be able to hear it even without his enhanced hearing. He makes a quiet and pitiful little distressed noise. “Oh,” he croaks, “your lowkey violent and mysterious not-boyfriend is keeping tabs on you. That’s totally comforting.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I’m still pretty sure he’d stop something bad from happening to me,” Matt says reassuringly, but Foggy just makes another distressed noise. “Uh, never mind, then. Let’s go to class?”

Foggy starts to nod but cuts himself off. “Wait, you don’t have to give me details, but can you just give me the cliff notes on why you don’t like M- your childhood nickname anymore?”

“My mentor used it, and I’ve got baggage from it,” Matt explains quietly. “Which I don’t really like to be reminded of.”

“Yeah, that makes sense.” He takes Matt’s left hand and tucks it into the crook of his elbow. “Let’s go to class, then. We could probably get away with being late if you pull the blind card, but let’s not test our luck, shall we?”

“I don’t know about that, Mr. Nelson. You seem to be a pretty lucky guy,” Matt teases.

Foggy rolls his eyes, sighing theatrically. “Yes, well, you’re quite possibly one of the unluckiest guys in the world, so we cancel out. Now get those legs moving, mister. We’ve got places to be.”

Frank’s no longer in the spot he was earlier, but Matt grips his cane until his knuckles turn white to avoid letting his thoughts linger for too long. Not now, not yet, not until he’s sure.

*

Matt manages to avoid Frank for the entirety of the school day, and he goes with Foggy to his house rather than visiting Max like he normally would. There’s not a doubt in Matt’s mind that Frank hasn’t realized there’s something going on, but as long as he doesn’t know exactly what that is, Matt doesn’t particularly care.

They’re sitting together on Foggy’s bed again, but the mood is far more relaxed than it had been the day before. There’s a plate of crackers with little slices of ham which both of them take turns munching on as Foggy catches him up on all the neighborhood gossip he missed over the years.

A buzzing sound interrupts their conversation, and Foggy pats around for his phone, holding it up with a triumphant cheer once he finds it. He looks at the screen, then repeatedly pats Matt’s shoulder. “Ooh! We’ve got an update on the Frank situation. I’ll read the texts out to you.”

So, about Frank…

Turns out he was actually taken into custody a little under a year ago for beating the fuck out of a bunch of guys near a nightclub. Why the hell a minor was by a nightclub, I have no clue. But for whatever reason, no charges were pressed, and he didn’t even have to do any community service. Weird, right?

So I looked into it some more and found some reports (totally illegal by the way, so you guys seriously owe me) of an old guy somehow getting him off without so much as a slap on the wrist. One of the cops sent a text to their friend, saying something about misunderstandings and chastity or something, idk.

But yeah. Basically, Frank beat a bunch of people up, got a get out of jail card from some mysterious old dude, and then shortly after he moved here. Kinda weird, but it’s not really far from what I was expecting.

Matt tugs at Foggy’s sleeve frantically. “Ask him about the guy- the old guy that showed up.”

“Will do.” Foggy’s fingers fly against the screen, making little tap-tap noises, followed by a sound effect Matt takes to mean the message has been sent.

Another buzz, and then Foggy’s reading it off to him again. “He says he’s looking into it, but that ‘ This guy is major sketchy. It’s like he’s a part of a cult or something which some of the police are a part of too.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. Matt’s heart is beating a mile a minute, panic setting in and causing his hands to shake. He digs his nails into his palms, but it only serves to make it worse. “Description- I need- ask him for a description.”

Foggy shoots him a concerned look but does as he says. When the next text comes, he reads it out carefully, no doubt monitoring Matt’s reaction.

Old white guy, kinda wrinkly, white wispy hair, and get this- apparently he’s blind. You know him?

“Fuck,” Matt says, with great feeling. “ Fuck.  I was- why’d I have to be right? Fucking stupid, I should’ve- should’ve known it wasn’t over, I’m such an idiot, fucking-”

“Matt! Calm down buddy, take a deep breath, okay?” Foggy soothes him.

“I should’ve known,” Matt whispers after a shaky breath. “I should’ve-”

Foggy’s voice is sharp as he cuts him off. “No, cut that shit out. You’re spiraling, Matt, come on. Just- focus on my breathing, okay?”

Matt obeys, putting all of his attention on each forcibly even breath that Foggy sucks in and lets out. He does his best to match him, but it’s hard to concentrate when his mind is still clinging to regret and fear.

Eventually, most of it clears away, and it’s silent except for the sounds of their breathing- the noise of everything else muted with the weight of the discovery they made and the heaviness of Matt’s thoughts. Even with a slightly calmer mind, he can’t help but dwell on what Stick sending Frank means - about Stick, Frank, and even Matt. It makes him start to second-guess all of his decisions regarding Stick, starting with them taking separate paths.

Something drives him to voice his concerns to Foggy, sharing the ideas he’s been turning around in his head for the past hour or so. “Do you- do you think that maybe I was wrong?”

Foggy rolls onto his stomach, resting his head on his hands to look at him. “About what, buddy? You’re gonna have to be more specific.”

“About Stick. And- and leaving him, and all that.”

Foggy’s quiet for several moments. “Why are you asking that?”

“I can’t help but think- if Stick sent Frank to- to watch me, or whatever, maybe I was wrong about who he was. Maybe I misjudged him, you know? Maybe- maybe he did care about me, but I didn’t see it.”

“Didn’t he literally beat you as part of your ‘training’?”

“Yeah, to help me learn! What if he really was just trying to help me but I was too weak and stupid to understand, so I-”

“I’m gonna stop you right there,” Foggy says, voice kind yet firm, “because you’re not weak, and you’re not stupid. You’re one of the smartest people I know, even including the times where you go all self-sacrificing idiot on me and lose your common sense for a day or two. From what you’ve told me about that guy, he was a dick, and I’m glad you’re no longer with him.”

“But that’s the thing- you didn’t know him! How do you know that I’m not just giving biased and warped accounts of everything that happened? For all you know, he’s a good person and I was just too stubborn and- and needy to admit it.”

“Matt, he literally only gave you clothes he stole, because he told you he didn’t want to waste his money on you, and only the stuff he ‘wouldn’t be utterly humiliated to be seen next to’.”

“I just-”

Foggy pokes his chest hard with an accusatory finger. “No,” he says, “Stick was an abusive asshole who tried to convince you that you were stupid and weak for wanting things that made you happy, for wanting to just be happy, and you’re better off without him. He was only ever looking out for his own best interests for his weird ninja war, and you’re not at fault for not wanting to be a part of it. You were right to leave, Matt. I promise you, you were.”

And Matt wants to believe him, he really does, but he can’t help but come up with excuse after excuse for his old mentor to excuse everything he did. After all, he is the only reason Matt has a handle on his senses and can use them the way he does- shouldn’t he be grateful?

Foggy sighs. His voice is quieter when he speaks. “Listen, Matt. You’re only second-guessing yourself this much because Frank is involved. And no, don’t give me that look. Because Frank’s been helping you out so much, and he’s all nice and understanding with you, you think that maybe Stick can’t be so bad by sending Frank to look after you. But a) we don’t even know that Frank isn’t supposed to be doing something else, and b) Frank might not even really know Stick outside of a passing conversation or two; he might not actually like Stick any more than I do.”

Damn. No wonder Foggy’s the star of the debate team.

“Quit doubting yourself. I’m telling you that you made the right choice, Matt. Don’t overthink it.”

A pause, and then Matt nods. “Okay,” he whispers.

“Good.” Foggy’s voice is a mixture of satisfied and relieved, and his body relaxes against his sheets. His heartbeat starts to beat faster, and his hands twitch where they’re resting on his lap; he’s working up the courage to say something, though Matt has no idea what it is. “Just curious, though, since we’ve kind of got the whole sleepover-conversation vibe going on right now, uh, do you like Frank? Like, like-like?”

Matt groans and promptly shoves his face against a pillow. “Foggy,” he whines.

“What? As your best and maybe only friend right now, don’t I deserve to know?”

Matt turns his face away from the pillow just enough to glare in Foggy’s general direction. “Fuck off.”

“Hey, if you seriously don’t wanna talk about it, I’ll back off,” Foggy says honestly. “But if you’re okay with sharing some details, I’m all ears.”

“It’s just- awkward to talk about, I guess,” Matt admits quietly. It’s silent as both of them take that in. Matt lost a good portion of his childhood with Stick, so a good portion of the landmarks most kids reach are completely foreign to Matt. He’s never talked about crushes, or whatever else preteens talk about to their friends, and it’s just another reminder to how much he doesn’t quite fit in- not with Foggy, or anyone else.

This time, though, Foggy has the right words to say. “Hey, no sweat. Karen grew up in a small town too, and she never really got to gossip about weird crushes or anything like that either. Marci and I had to break her into it, you know.”

“No, I- I didn’t know.”

“Well now you do,” Foggy says simply. “We’ll get a normal teenage boy out of you yet, Murdock, just you wait.”

“I, uh- might, by the way.”

Foggy pauses. “Might what?”

“Might, uh, you know. Like Frank.”

“No shit?” Foggy asks.

“No shit,” Matt replies solemnly.

“Oh, uh, that’s cool, I guess.” Foggy hums. “While we’re sharing, I used to date Marci back in seventh grade and we still occasionally make out behind the gym.”

Matt chokes. “Dude, that’s where like everyone goes to smoke!”

“Yeah, well, that’s because it’s the best place for privacy,” Foggy defends. “And it’s either that or by the dumpsters.”

Matt makes a face at the thought. “Still gross.”

Foggy shrugs. “Maybe so. I’m usually busy thinking about something else though.”

Matt picks up the pillow he had been using to smother his face in earlier and smacks his friend across the face with it. “Dude! TMI!”

Foggy laughs, putting his arms up half-heartedly to defend himself. “What? It’s true!”

“T! M! I!” Matt repeats, punctuating each letter with another hit of the pillow. He’s laughing too, worries of Frank and Stick pushed to the back of his mind as he lets himself be temporarily freed from all the fears and stress that typically cling to him like a second skin.

“Party pooper!” Foggy teases.

“Boys!” Mrs. Nelson greets, and they both clamber to sit up straight, whirling around to face the doorway. Her voice is undeniably fond as she says, “It’s good to see you having fun, but dinner’s ready. Come on down soon, okay?”

“Yes, Ma!” “Of course, Mrs. Nelson!” They reply earnestly. Now that Matt’s looking for it, he can smell the just barely overcooked ham and fresh alfredo pasta, and his mouth waters.

“Good. Don’t dilly-dally, now,” she tells them before turning around and heading back down the stairs.

“Well, you heard the lady.” Foggy gets up, groaning as his back cracks. “Ow.”

Matt chuckles, easing himself off the bed and heading towards the stairs. “Karma, Foggy.”

“Fuck off,” Foggy hisses, but there’s an undertone of affection that has Matt grinning. “Get your ass down those stairs, Murdock. Quit holding me back from my mom’s food.”

“Alright, alright.”

They head down the stairs together towards the chatter of the rest of the Nelson’s, and Matt can’t help but think that maybe this time, things may just work out after all.

Chapter Text

Matt had known he would run into Frank eventually, but he had hoped it would be under much better circumstances than his current one.

He was walking back to his apartment, arms full of leftover food and snacks Mrs. Nelson had insisted on him taking back when he heard someone getting mugged a couple of blocks down. Swearing, he had torn down the street, carefully setting down the numerous tupperware containers off to the side.

The weather was starting to cool down, and Matt had been grateful he dressed in layers as he meticulously wrapped and tied his button-down shirt around his head. With his face covered, he snuck up on the mugger from behind, knocking him down easily with a solid hit to the head.

The almost-victim thanked him profusely before scrambling away, and Matt only had half a moment to wonder if he should follow them home just in case when something collided with his skull.

Groaning, he had fallen over with a hand to his head, ears ringing as the sounds of three - or had it been four? - people entered the alley.

Fighting them hadn’t been easy, not with a pounding headache and his senses slightly skewed, but he had managed well enough, barely standing as he just focused on throwing one more punch, one more kick, one last hit.

And of course Frank had found him after it was all over, pausing as he walked past the alley to take in the sight.

“Damn, Murdock.” Frank whistles lowly. “You sure attract all kinds of trouble, don’t you?”

Matt flaps an irritated hand at him, hopefully conveying his annoyance well enough since he was too tired to properly express it.

Frank steps closer, reaching a hand out to Matt which he subconsciously flinches away from. Frank freezes, and his hand lowers slowly. “Okay,” he says after a while. “What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?” Matt rasps out. He leans against a nearby wall for support, and he’ll complain later about how dirty it is, but for now, Matt’s just glad he has something to lean on. He wishes he could rely on Frank, let him take care of him and help like he had before, but after learning about Frank’s involvement with Stick, he doesn’t know if he’s able to. (He doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to.)

Frank’s voice is hard, pain and frustration just barely kept under the surface. “Don’t play dumb. You’ve been avoiding me like I’m fucking poison or something, ever since that shit went down at the pizza place. Why the hell-” He takes a deep inhale to collect himself, and when he speaks again his voice is much quieter, almost defeated. He sounds earnest and pained in a way that breaks Matt’s heart a little. “Did I do something? If I- If I crossed over a line, or something, or made you uncomfortable, I-”

“Frank,” Matt cuts him off quickly. He can’t bear to hear Frank talk like that, sounding completely genuine like he did before, as though he actually cares about their relationship. Matt needs answers. He steels himself, focusing on the heartbeat a couple of feet away from him rather than the dull pain of his head and side. “What exactly did Stick tell you to do?”

Any doubts Matt might’ve had that maybe Frank and Stick didn’t actually know each other, that maybe everything was just a series of incredibly bizarre coincidences, vanish when Frank’s heartbeat falters and then picks up much faster than it had been before.

Matt sighs. “Just- be honest. Please.”

There’s a heavy pause as Frank rubs a hand over his head. “Fuck. Alright, I- fuck.” He takes a deep breath. “How about this. You let me patch you up, you catch a few hours of sleep before you keel over, and then I’ll explain everything to you. I promise I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”

Matt wants to argue, wants to demand that Frank answer all his questions now, but it’s getting harder and harder to focus. He tries to comfort himself with the knowledge that at the very least, Frank’s telling him the truth right now. “Fine,” he grits out.

“Good. Now let me see your head.”

*

Several hours later, Matt is knocking on what is apparently Frank’s door, feeling significantly more alive and rested than he had before. He had slept in his own apartment (after being handled gently by Frank, which did something he didn’t quite want to think about to his heart, and backtracking to pick up the food he had left behind), not quite comfortable being left so vulnerable with Frank, and followed the directions Frank had written down for him to find where he lived.

It was an apartment building not too much unlike the one Matt lived in, although it was slightly cleaner and taller, more occupants chatting and filling up the dozens of rooms.

The door swings open, and the familiar smell of leather and Frank wafts out.

“Hey,” Frank greets. He steps aside after a moment, waving his hand vaguely. “Come on in.”

Matt steps forward with careful, measured steps, taking in the space around him. It’s sparse, though less than his own apartment, a small sofa and armchair sitting slightly off to the side of the room with a coffee table between them, a single bookshelf along the wall, and two doors which Matt assumed led to the bedroom and bathroom.

“There’s a couch you can sit on about, uh, six paces ahead and one to the left,” Frank tells him. “Feel free to make yourself at home.”

Matt doesn’t particularly want to sit, but he doesn’t think he can handle whatever information Frank’s going to tell him while standing, so he shuffles forward and settles down against the squishy sofa, wincing at the strange smells that seem soaked into the material, a given in any second-hand furniture items.

“You want something to drink?” Frank asks, heading towards a small kitchen area and opening some cupboards. “I got tea and coffee.”

Matt shakes his head. “You said you’d explain everything,” he says bluntly. “So explain.”

Frank sighs. “No leading up to it or anything, huh? Alright. What is it that you want to know?”

“How did you know Stick? When did you meet and how long ago was it? What did he ask you to do? Why did you agree? How much-” How much of everything - of us - has only been because of him?  he wants to ask, but he stops himself. He won’t put himself in such a vulnerable position to Frank, not yet. Not until he has some answers.

Frank sits down on the armchair and scrubs a hand over his face. “I wanna start off by saying that I barely know the guy. I met him once, maybe around a year or so ago, when I got myself into some shit and was gonna face some pretty hard consequences for ‘em. I didn’t like it but I figured I kinda deserved it, but then he showed up and offered me a deal: I get off scot-free, but I do him a couple of favors.” Frank shrugs. “It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I didn’t want my folks to have to deal with me going to juvie on top of all the other shit I put them through, so I agreed.”

“What were the favors?”

“Move to a certain area in Hell’s Kitchen and keep an eye out on someone. Make sure they don’t do anything stupid that would stop them from getting to adulthood, and if I could, I should-” Frank stops.

His heartbeat sounds like thunder in Matt’s ears, and Matt digs his nails into his palms to keep his expression neutral. He hated that he was right (hated it almost half as much as he hated knowing the moment his father threw his last winning punch, it was a death sentence), and he hated that he wasn’t even surprised. What he also hated, however, was how Frank was still trying to keep secrets from him. “What?” he spits out. “What ‘should’ you do?”

Frank swallows hard, and his voice is shaky. “If I got the opportunity,” he says slowly, “I was supposed to push you to be… Bad, I guess.”

Matt freezes. “I’m sorry?” he croaks out.

“Well, that’s not what he said. He said something about you being less of a pussy and being more willing to fight a war you were trained for, but it seemed less like a ‘talk sense into this person’ and more of a ‘manipulate this person into being exactly what I want them to be, regardless of their own morality’. It seemed kinda fucked up, so I never really planned on doing that, even if I did get the chance.”

That’s a lot of information that Matt doesn’t know how to process. His nails have drawn blood by this point, and he’s only vaguely aware of the feeling of it pooling up beneath his fingertips.

“I’m not some fucking mind-controller, or hypnotist, or whatever the fuck else, so I figured I’d go where he wanted me to and watch out for this kid, but that’d be it.”

“But it wasn’t.” Matt takes a shaky breath. “That wasn’t just it.”

“Nah, it wasn’t. I took one fucking look at you, and I knew you were trouble.” There’s a laugh, but it’s soft and warm, almost out of place considering their current conversation.

Honey. Matt thinks. Frank is honey and leather and please God let this end well.

“People look at me and think I attract danger, but I’m pretty sure you got me beat, Murdock. Sittin’ pretty on the sidelines in gym class with bruised knuckles- I knew I wasn’t going to be able to watch your back from far away. And after that fight with those bully fuckheads…” Frank whistles quietly. “I figured the old man was full of it with his whole ‘the kid’s useless as he is right now’ bullshit. And it was impressive, I’m not gonna lie, to see you lay into them the way you did, but I saw you afterward.” He stops and goes quiet. “I saw how what you did horrified you, how it tore you apart from the inside out.”

“So what?” Matt whispers. “What did that matter to you?” What did his pain ever matter to anyone? Anyone besides his dad, and maybe Foggy? Why would it change anything- it doesn’t make any sense.

“So I saw a cute guy with a hell of a temper but a hell of a soft heart, and I thought- I don’t know what I thought,” Frank’s heartbeat spikes on the lie (why did he lie, what was the truth, what did he want?), “but I figured I could be your friend, at the very least. Or just- let you know I was in your corner.”

His senses are sharpening now, panic and revelations swirling together like the blood starting to seep into his jeans from where his hands rest above it. The stutter of Frank’s heart plays on repeat in his head, and he seethes. “Don’t lie to me.  What did you want?”

Frank twitches, then squirms a little in his seat, turning his head away slightly, and he clears his throat several times before he speaks again. “I thought you were the closest thing to an angel on this godforsaken planet, with the power to hurt people the way you can but such a- a fucking pure and good heart that it hurt you more every time.”

And Frank’s heartbeat is steady even though it’s elevated, and oh, isn’t that something? Matt’s been thinking of himself as a devil since he was a child, and here Frank is, calling him an angel and believing every word of it.

“You’re good, Murdock, I mean it. I didn’t know the kind of asshole the old man was when he approached me. I swear to you, if I knew how much of an asshole he was to- to someone like you, I never would’ve accepted his offer. I swear it.”

“Now you know.” A pause. “How do you know?”

Frank’s tone turns sheepish. “I, uh, overheard part of your conversation with Nelson. Obviously I only know a small part of it, but hearing that and thinking back to my impression of the guy made me come up with a few things.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Yeah.” There’s a long silence before Frank speaks again. “I just- I came here and met you because of the deal, but that was it. Everything else was my own choice, I promise.”

“I believe you,” Matt says quietly. “So thanks.”

“You’ve got no reason to be thanking me,” Frank tells him honestly, “Now quit clenching your hands like that- it’s gotta hurt.”

Which, well, that’s kind of the point, but he acquiesces. Matt uncurls his fists, and he winces as the open wounds come into contact with the stale air of the apartment.

Frank’s on him immediately, cradling Matt’s hands with his own and hissing at the (presumably) bloody sight. “Christ, Murdock,” he murmurs. “I’ll get some ointment for that.” He sets Matt’s hands down carefully before wandering into his bathroom in search of the appropriate supplies.

Matt takes the time to rub the blood off onto his shirt. He knows it’s not the smart thing to do, but it’s gotta go somewhere for Frank to bandage him up, right? He does his best to ignore the smell, but it seems to cut through the smell of the apartment.

Frank nearly trips when he catches sight of him on his way out of the bathroom. “Fucking- what the hell?”

“Got rid of the blood for you,” Matt says amicably. Frank’s presence washes over his like a soft blanket, easily muting the coppery scent seeping into his clothes, making him hum contentedly. He’s glad that he and Frank were able to clear everything up- it’s much nicer being able to relax (at least to a certain extent) and let Frank take care of him. Being around Frank has nearly always brought him some sort of comfort, and depriving himself of it even for a short while had been difficult.

Frank groans. “Figured you’d be a shitty patient. Put your hands out, alright? And don’t worry about anything getting on the couch. It’s old as shit, anyways.”

Matt obeys, melting into the touch as calloused hands take his own, carefully pouring a strong-smelling liquid over the wounds, then applying the ointment and dressing them expertly.

Frank keeps his hold on Matt’s hands even after he’s finished, and Matt opens his eyes (when had he closed them?) to give Frank’s direction a curious look.

Frank’s heart stutters a bit, and he pulls his hands back. “It’s late. My bed’s open if you wanna stay the night, but you can go back to your place if you want.”

Matt pauses to consider it. On one hand, they’ve only just resolved everything but on the other… “I’ll stay,” he says eventually.

Frank grins. “Cool. Lemme clear the bed and it’s all yours.”

Chapter Text

It takes a while for Matt to sleep. As much as he knows he technically can trust Frank, there’s the constant fear that keeps him from being able to completely relax.

When he does finally drift off, it’s surprisingly peaceful. Despite the issues that came with knowing Frank knew Stick (and first knew of him through Stick, which probably meant he had a less than stellar first impression), in nearly all of their interactions together Frank had been nothing but kind.

There’s an undeniable amount of comfort and safety that Matt finds himself relaxing into as soon as he knows Frank is nearby, and it should make him disgusted, should make him terrified, relying on someone so much, but instead, it just fills him with a warmth that seems too lovely to be bad.

Frank’s room is small, and all of the smells mix together in the enclosed space: leather from what Matt figures are a couple of biker jackets in the closet, metal, rust, and old wood from the building, and a scent that is wholly Frank. It may not be the most typically soothing of combinations, but there’s not another collection of scents he’d rather wrap himself in.

Which, he sort of is doing, considering how he didn’t exactly have a change of clothes at Frank’s place, and as such had to borrow the other boy’s clothes. He traces the hem of a worn t-shirt with a faded print on the front that Matt can’t quite make out, before toying with the drawstring of the basketball shorts he was wearing.

He knew Frank was slightly bigger than him despite them being close in age- even besides the countless murmurs around the school describing how “buff” Frank was, Matt had always been on the smaller side, and his training with Stick had only emphasized that.

There are the faint sounds of someone rummaging around in the kitchen, slowly bringing Matt back to wakefulness. He lays still as he takes in the room around him, figuring out the placement of all the furniture and doors before slowly climbing out of the bed. The sheets hadn’t been the softest, but they were better than Matt had expected, and they were worn down from countless washes and soaked through by Frank’s smell.

Frank must see something startling because his heart jumps in his chest, and it never quite returns to its normal pace even once it does calm down. Even still, his movements are calm and nonchalant as he moves about the tiny kitchen space. “Mornin’, Murdock,” he greets. There’s the sizzling of eggs on a pan and bread in the toaster, the perfect picture of domesticity that Matt wishes he could let himself get used to. (But he can’t, because how could he? How could he even dare to imagine himself with such a lovely life?)

He stops himself from voicing his fears, and instead, he responds casually. “Morning, Castle.” He doesn’t move to sit down even though he can pinpoint the location of the chairs- he doesn’t want to overstay his welcome, not when so many things between the two of them are unclear.

But Frank quells his doubts quickly enough. “I’ve only got stuff for toast and eggs, so I hope that’s okay. Seat’s about five steps to your 4 o’clock.”

Matt nods awkwardly, shuffling forward to sit in the designated chair. He squirms in the silence, everything too sweet and family-like for him to know what to do. “Hey, uh, why do you keep giving me papers to read?” Matt asks.

Frank makes an inquisitive noise. “Hmm?”

Matt locates and wiggles the paper Frank had written the directions to his apartment on out in the air between them. “I’m blind, remember?”

“The, uh, the old man said you could read print..?” Frank says hesitantly. He sounds vaguely nervous but mostly confused, which Matt can sympathize with.

Matt rolls his eyes because of course Stick did. “I mean, technically I can, but there’s a reason I stick to braille even when I don’t have to. The rest of my senses may be above average, but it doesn’t mean I can actually see.”

“Shit, that’s my bad, Red.” His heartbeat falters, breath picking up like he wants to say something, but he never does.

“What is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“You have something you want to say- what is it?”

Frank laughs. “Is that a special sense you got? Knowing when people have something on their mind?”

Matt shakes his head, smiling slightly. It feels good to be able to talk about his abilities so candidly, without fear of ostracization (or a beat-down under the guise of training, when it came to Stick). “Not quite. But I can hear your heart pick up, and your breathing changes right before you talk, so I put two and two together and figure you’ve got something you wanna say.”

“Shit, Red, seriously? You can hear my heartbeat?” He sounds almost nervous, and Matt winces. Maybe he spoke too soon about being able to talk about his senses without consequence.

“Uh, yes?”

Frank scrubs a hand over his face. “Okay. Okay.”

“Frank, the eggs,” Matt points out when the sizzling is starting to sound more like that of an overcooked egg than a perfectly done one.

Frank swears, quickly transferring the eggs to two plates. “Thanks. Anyways, I, uh, didn’t realize your hearing was that good.”

Matt shrugs. “Well, now you do. It’s not like it tells me everything there is to know about a person, though. Any conclusions I come to based on something like their heartbeat - whether they’re lying, excited, nervous, or scared - that’s just my interpretation. There’s not really a way of telling for sure unless they say so outright.”

Frank relaxes slightly at that. “That so? So just because someone’s heart gets all… Jumpy, or whatever, doesn’t mean you know what’s causing it?”

“Right. It’s just like the assumptions you make when someone has a certain expression. You may have a pretty good idea or no idea at all. It just comes down to guessing, in the end.”

“Huh.” Frank rubs his head. “Well, good to know, I guess.” He seems relieved to know Matt can’t tell how he’s feeling, which is- unsettling, to say the least.

He hopes desperately that it’s because Frank is just a private person in general rather than him not wanting to hurt Matt’s feelings because he thinks of him like a little baby or something. Matt winces at the thought but is promptly distracted by it by the sound of plastic sliding across the countertop.

“The toast’ll be done in a minute,” Frank tells him. “What do you want to drink?”

“Uh, water is fine, thanks.”

Frank pauses, and then, “It was, uh- you look. Nice.”

Matt blinks. “What?”

Frank’s heart has jumped up again, warmth starting to gather in his cheeks and neck. “You wanted to know what I was going to say. It was that you look nice.”

Matt discretely pats the clothes he’s wearing just in case he's somehow forgotten what he's wearing. “Frank,” he says slowly, “I’m literally wearing an old t-shirt and basketball shorts.”

“Yeah, well, they’re mine, so,” Frank murmurs.

Matt’s cheeks burn at the implication, because what the fuck.  He’s so far from equipped from handling that and everything it brought with it. He occupies himself with the glass of water Frank gives him to save him from having to say something in response.

Frank clears his throat. “So, uh, how’d you sleep?”

“Pretty well, actually. Thanks for lending me your bed.”

“Was the least I could do.” The toaster dings and Frank puts a slice on both of their plates. “You want any jam?”

“No thanks.”

They eat in silence, but it’s not overwhelming or pressuring like Matt had feared it might be. Instead, it’s companionable, and for once Matt lets himself take it in- blocking out his thoughts and the constant noise of the city, he takes one morning to be Matt Murdock, eating breakfast across from a boy he may slightly (wholly, completely) have feelings for.

*

The bell rings, signaling the end of the day, and Matt sighs in relief. He may not have to deal with any of the friend or club drama that teen movies he watched as a kid had suggested he would, but that didn’t mean high school was easy by any means.

“Hey, uh, Matt.” A voice, light but strong, reaches his ears just as he’s finished gathering all of his things. “It’s Karen. Karen Page. Foggy’s friend?”

Matt’s lips quirk up. “I know who you are, Karen. What’s up?”

She shifts on her feet, hair carefully pushed behind her ear. “Just- I know we’re not like, super close or anything, and you’ve got Foggy, and you’re not even technically new here or whatever but- I know what it’s like to be the new kid. And to… Not really fit in, because of. Things, or whatever. So if you ever wanted to hang out sometime, I’d, uh, like that.”

Matt’s startled into silence before a smile slowly spreads across his face. “That’s- kind of you.”

She shrugs. “Just passing it forward, or whatever.” Her heart flutters nervously, but her earnestness is startling in its clarity, and Matt can’t help but want to be on the receiving end for a little bit more.

“I’m free today if you’re available,” he tells her after a moment of consideration.

“Cool! I’ve got work until seven, but we can hang out after?”

“Of course,” Matt agrees quickly. “What, uh- where would you like to meet?”

“We can get some froyo - there’s a really affordable place a couple of blocks from here - and hang out at my place after? Fair warning though, I live by myself and it’s kinda messy.”

Matt shrugs. “Fine by me.”

*

They make small talk at the frozen yogurt store, talking about classes and teachers and really weird and difficult assignments, but when they enter Karen’s apartment Matt knows it’s only a matter of time before the tone of conversation shifts.

Sure enough, Karen clears her throat after both of them have settled down on her bed. Matt’s sure it would be awkward if one of them was interested in the other, but thankfully that isn’t the case and they can relax easily enough.

“Alright, listen.” The bed shifts beneath her as she moves into a more comfortable position. “Marci won’t tell you herself, but she feels like an asshole for pushing you the other day. She doesn’t- none of them really get it, I guess. And I’m not saying I know your life story or anything like that, but I figure-” she takes a deep breath, collecting herself. “I figure that we’ve got a few things in common that a lot of people don’t.”

She doesn’t talk in a patronizing way, which is refreshing, but Matt could live without her vagueness. He leans forward, cocking his head. “And what’s that?”

“Trauma,” she says bluntly. “I’ve gone through some shit, and I’m pretty sure you have too. I’m not going to excuse the others for trying to squeeze some answers out of you, but I wanted to… Defend them, I guess. At least to a certain extent. They meant well, and honestly? No one really expects to hear a sob story when they asked what brought you into town- or back into town, in your case.”

He bristles. “Who says I’ve got a sob story?”

The rolling of her eyes is almost audible. “Matt, you’re an orphan in Hell’s Kitchen. Even if you didn’t just disappear and show up years later as a broody teenager, you’ve definitely got a sob story.”

He doesn’t say anything to prove her wrong, because, well, she has a point.

“But your shit isn’t an excuse to be an asshole. I get that you’re scared, trust me, I really do, but you can’t push people away the moment you think something bad’s going to happen. It’s great that you and Foggy are hanging out and all that, but you need to promise me you won’t just ditch at the first sign of trouble.”

“If anyone would leave, it’d be him,” Matt says absently. He doesn’t realize the words have left his mouth until he takes in Karen gaping at him in stunned silence. “You may have noticed I tend to attract trouble,” he adds weakly.

“Well, fair, but- Foggy’s a good guy. He’s not perfect, but he’s better than most. Better than I thought I deserved, for a bit. He won’t just- leave .” She sounds so genuine, completely believing every word she says, and it makes Matt’s heart hurt just the slightest bit.

Don’t you know the Murdock boys are trouble? Don’t you know everyone leaves in the end?

“Yeah, well, you don’t know me or my shit, so.” He shrugs.

She huffs. “Fuck outta here with that. You know what, fine! We can either have a giant tragic backstory sharing session, or you can shut up and consider that bad things aren’t always going to happen to you.”

His smile is only a little bit predatory when he faces her. “You first.”

But she doesn’t back off like he expected her to. Instead, she steels herself and scoots so she can lean against the wall. “Fine, you asked for it. But this is a fair trade deal, Matt. I’m from Vermont, right? I was the oldest child, with a younger brother. My parents had a little diner, and when we were old enough we helped out by taking orders and taking out the trash and stuff like that.” She wrings her comforter between her hands. “We were a happy family.”

And fuck, fuck, fuck, Matt’s regretting this. Karen’s sweet and smart and stubborn and brave, and Matt doesn’t think he can handle hearing her kind, good voice talking about loss and pain. He doesn’t know why, but just knowing that something bad happened - which Karen is, unless he says otherwise, going to go into explicit detail about - fills his chest with anxiety. “Karen, I-”

She stops. “Matt,” she says slowly. “Are you okay?”

He tries to shrug nonchalantly, but he can feel how jerkily his shoulder moves. “F-fine. I’m fine.”

“Fucking- okay, um, shit, hold on-” She pats him awkwardly on the arm before rushing out the room and tumbling down the stairs.

He tries to concentrate on tracking Karen as she runs down the street if only to stop himself from overthinking himself into a panic.

“Dinah!” Karen screeches. “I need your emotional stability!”

He doesn’t hear the rest, the world muting around him into a blur of vague warmth and noise, smells mixing together until he can’t tell one thing from another. Vaguely, he notes a new set of smells joining the rest, but he can’t focus enough to pay much attention to it.

Something lands on his shoulder and he jolts, scrambling away until he’s backed up against the wall. His arms are up in a defensive stance as he wobbles to his feet- he knows, distantly, that he’s in Karen’s room, that he should be safe, but it’s not enough to calm him down.

“Hey! Take it easy, man!” A voice barks at him.

It’s not a familiar voice, not one he’s ever heard before, but it’s one of authority, and he can’t help but be inclined to do as it says. Slowly, he lowers his hands, but he stays on his feet even as shaky as they are.

Eventually, his senses come back to him, and he’s able to take in the stranger in the room - a teenager around his and Karen’s age, smelling of apple blossom hand lotion and day-old pizza.

“Uh, how’re you feeling, Matt?” Karen asks hesitantly.

“Peachy,” he grunts. He lets himself fall back down into a seated position, dropping his head back against the wall. “Who’re you?”

“Dinah Madani,” the stranger greets, tone slightly gentler than it had been before. They turn to Karen dubiously. “What’s going on?”

“I, uh, realized I don’t know how to approach like any situation with a level head, and this situation kind of really needs one.” She twists a strand of hair between her fingers. “Matt, Dinah’s a, uh- a friend of mine. She knows about- about why I moved here, and all that. I trust her. You don’t need to tell her anything, but if you do, your secret’s safe with her.”

Matt twitches. He’s only just now realizing just how much he’s opened himself up to people, even letting himself be vulnerable in front of someone he had only met once before. “I think I’ll keep my life story to myself,” he says dryly.

“Suit yourself.” Dinah shrugs.

“Listen, just- Matt’s got, like, a lot of shit,” Karen says bluntly. “And I figure if anyone knows how to help with some of it, it’d be you.”

“You don’t need to flatter me, Karen. We’re already dating,” Dinah replies, but her voice is fond.

“That’s- besides the point!” Karen flaps a hand through the air. “Can you impart some healthy advice to us?”

“Sure. Don’t do drugs, be honest and nice to people but especially those you care about, and eat healthy.”

Karen huffs out a laugh. “Not really what I meant, but thanks.”

Matt, meanwhile, is somewhat in shock. “You two are dating?”

“Yeah. Got a problem?” Dinah’s voice suggests a challenge, but there’s slight nervousness in her posture that Matt rushes to ease.

“No, not at all, I- I’m, you know. Yeah.”

Both Karen and Dinah are silent, more than likely exchanging looks before staring at him.

“Right,” Karen says slowly.

“I- I like guys?” he tries again.

“Oh,” Karen says. “Oh.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “You like Frank, don’t you?”

Matt freezes. How the hell was everyone able to read him so easily? “What? Why would you- that’s- who’s Frank?”

“Frank Castle?” Dinah asks. “Damn, you got quite the taste in guys. He’s the big guy with the leather jacket, right?”

“Right,” Matt finally concedes. Then, to Karen, “How’d you know?”

“More like how would I not know. You perk up whenever he’s around, did you know that?”

No, he did not.

“And you get this cheesy grin whenever he talks to you first.”

Well. That’s pretty damning evidence, then.

“Ah,” he supplies. “I see.”

“It’s okay, he looks at you like the sun shines out of your ass,” Karen assures him.

Dinah hums. “Well, it is a pretty nice ass.”

Matt chokes on his spit, but soon enough all three of them are grinning, leaving Matt to wonder if he somehow just unintentionally made a couple of new friends.

How’s that for Murdock luck?, he thinks to himself. Maybe things are looking up after all.

Chapter Text

Surprisingly, his good fortune seems to hold.

He gets along much better than expected with Karen and Dinah, and while he doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable enough to share his more personal information with them, he also doesn’t think it’ll be long before he does.

Dinah offers to walk him home, citing the dangers of the area, but Karen gets her to back off before Matt’s weak excuse can even form on his tongue.

“Trust me, he can take care of himself,” she says meaningfully, a reminder of how Karen has already witnessed his abilities, at least to a certain extent.

He’s grateful she didn’t push him to explain them, or anything else about him, but it’s almost unsettling to know someone has only pieces of knowledge about you but is making no noticeable efforts to gather more. Especially considering how “mysterious” he is to nearly everyone in their school, it’s an unfamiliar situation.

So he leaves, heading back home after stopping a few muggings and a handful of domestic violence disputes. (But that’s really only because they were on the way. And, well, because it’s the feeling of doing something good with his training almost makes all of the pain worth it. Even more than that, though, he does it because he figures he was able to hear all of it for a reason - what other explanation could there be besides him using what he knows to help others?)

And so he develops another routine, and while there are a few constants from before (school and visiting Max, now that he’s no longer avoiding Frank), they’re ultimately entirely different.

He wouldn’t call the new addition to his schedule “crime-fighting” as the school newspaper claims it is, more of a morally dubious hobby. He personally doesn’t see what questions there are about it (he’s physically capable of helping, he knows where, how, and who to help, so thus he helps. You can’t get any more straightforward than that), but he also knows there are issues regarding the law, especially when it comes to the amount of damage he inflicts, and whether or not he has the right to intervene in the first place.

And as much as he’d prefer to keep it under wraps, it isn’t long before he’s made enough of an impact that the whole area is talking about it - even beyond the school.

During lunch, he either sits with Foggy and his friends - Dinah goes to a private school, according to Karen, and every once in awhile Brett and Marci have club meetings they have to go to - with Frank in some secluded hallway, or by himself in the library. Although a lot of the time someone (Frank) ends up joining him in the library, so it’s rare that he ends up eating alone.

He told Foggy about his conversation with Frank shortly after it happened, and while Foggy still isn’t the most comfortable with the other boy (especially with the not completely-far-off rumors that surround him), there’s no animosity or wariness like there had been before.

It’s nice, a comfortable routine that Matt reminds himself not to get too used to but does anyways. Although maybe he gets too relaxed, which could be why he gets so caught off guard when Karen bounds over to their table during lunch, slamming down several thick papers. Marci’s in a student government meeting, but Foggy and Brett are both already seated with him.

Matt takes a discreet whiff and quickly places the item as a newspaper - most likely the school’s unofficial one, which Karen occasionally writes for. He can sense Frank eying them curiously from several feet away, no doubt interested in whatever has Karen so amped up.

“Look at this!” She waves the newspaper in the air furiously, paper making that fwub-wub sound that Matt loves. “Can you believe this is happening in Hell’s Kitchen?”

Foggy shrugs. “I wanna say no, but…” He pauses. “And you know Matt can’t see that.”

Karen quickly puts the paper down onto the table before pushing her hair back from her face. “Sorry, Matt, I’m- really worked up.”

“I think we can all tell,” Brett says dryly. He’s gone back to trying to finish his math homework after glancing at whatever Karen had been pointing at, having either already heard about it or just more interested in not missing another assignment.

“Uh, what is it?” Matt asks after a moment. “I can’t quite tell if it’s something good or bad.”

“Good!” “Bad,” Karen and Foggy say simultaneously. The turn to each other with a frown before facing him again.

“Ignore Karen,” Foggy tells him, “she’s full of shit. I, on the other hand, am being a reasonable person by saying that it’s only going to lead to more and more bad things happening. The article-”

“It’s a bunch of eye-witness accounts and testimonies about some guy beating up a bunch of criminals. From the local paper- not the school’s” Frank’s voice is firm yet far from loud, adding to his solid but unobtrusive presence. “Murdock,” he greets. He gives a soft tap on the table beside where Matt is sitting. “Mind if I-”

And maybe Matt replies a bit too eagerly, but hopefully, no one notices. “Go for it.” Foggy snickers into the back of his hand. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t completely nonchalant. He’s pretty sure he’d be freaking out more about Frank sitting with him and his friends (are they his friends? Matt doesn’t know. What’s the timeline for friendship? Is there a checklist? Do you say it outright? Do you have to talk about it first? Making friends in elementary school was so much easier- he regrets taking it for granted), but he’s more preoccupied with the fact that his hobby is starting to get a decent amount of attention. And considering how he doesn’t exactly plan on stopping any time soon, it’s likely that the number of people who know him will continue to grow.

“There are a couple of accounts that describe the guy, too.” Karen flips through the newspaper before finding what she wants, her finger sliding across the page as she reads. “Check this out: ‘looked like a teenager, but was flipping around like he’d been doing it for at least a dozen years’ and ‘lean dude with floppy hair and a terrifying smile when he beat the shit out of my ex’.”

Matt raises a brow. “That’s- hmm.” He knows, from the few times Stick had him train with someone else, that there are times when he gets caught up in the adrenaline and thrill of a fight- when he smiles just like his dad did in the ring before going in for the kill. He hadn’t realized he did it often or visibly enough to be mentioned in someone’s statement.

“That sure is interesting,” Foggy says after a moment. There’s something in his voice that Matt can’t quite place, and there’s an undercurrent of frustration in it too. Matt feels sorry for whoever caused it (and will inevitably be on the receiving end of it).

It’s only after a moment that Matt realized Foggy is upset with him - or, at least, the him that’s been going out at night and beating up muggers in dark alleys. At least Foggy doesn’t know it’s him, right?

“What do you think about what he’s doing, Matt?” Foggy asks, voice perfectly calm in that way that means he’s pissed off and only hiding it for present company’s sake. “You think he’s doing the right thing?” And oh, fuck, Foggy knows. Foggy totally, one hundred percent, knows. Matt’s screwed.

Matt wrings his hands together, keeping them under the table so he can play with the handle of his cane without his obvious sign of nervousness in sight of the rest of them. “Well- I don’t know. I don’t like how he’s working outside the law and taking everything into his own hands, but I can’t say that I’m upset at how many people he’s helped and saved as a result of it. Maybe he doesn’t see any other solution to those problems.”

“No other solution?” Brett asks, having temporarily given up on his academic career. “Because there are so few, right?”

“The guy may be fucking up the legal system by jumping around it, but there’s no denying that he’s doing some good,” Frank cuts in. He shrugs casually, and his tone turns thoughtful. “I mean if you’ve got the skills, then use ‘em, right? And besides, he’s definitely holding back when he’s beating those criminals up. Dunno why, though.”

“Uh, maybe cause he’s already doing enough damage as is?” Foggy scoffs. “A couple of the attempted assaults ended with the perp beaten to a bloody pulp.”

“Like you wouldn’t kick the shit out of a rapist if you had the chance?” Frank asks. “You're right there, but you’d just give them a smack on the wrist and let the cops handle it?”

“No- yes- I don’t know!” Foggy throws his hands up in the air. “But I’ll deal with that if I ever have to. I’m pretty sure this guy actively seeks all of these things out. He’s looking for people to beat up.”

Matt shifts in his seat. “Guys, I-”

“And how do you know that? You read minds or something?”

“What, like you know any better than I do? According to who? Since when are you the expert in this guy?” And oh shit this conversation is turning and Matt is not a fan.

“Guys-”

“All I’m saying is you shouldn’t be spouting all that like you know shit, if-”

“Guys!” Matt stands up, and finally the two fall silent. “That’s enough. We can only assume that this- this guy has reasons for why he’s doing what he is, but neither of you know them for sure. And neither of you ever will, unless you actually ask him.” His voice, which he had been trying to keep level as he speaks, gets sharper at the end. His hands are shaking around his cane, but he ignores them and clutches the handle tighter.

“Okay, that’s our bad,” Foggy says slowly, carefully.

“You wanna take a seat, Murdock?” Frank asks. Both of their heartbeats are high, even though their voices seem calm.

Matt can’t get much of a read on them besides that- he can’t seem to take in anything, everything coming in and out of focus at an unpredictable pattern. He wants to say that he’s fine, but he can’t seem to find the words, and his mouth feels like a dead weight and he’s unable to tell if he’s actually speaking or not.

“You know what? I forgot my notebook in my Spanish class. Brett, can you come with me?” Karen hauls Brett up and marches him off, leaving Matt alone with Foggy and Frank.

“Matt, buddy, can you sit?” Foggy inquires gently. “We can stop talking about it if you want us to.”

“I’m- fine,” he gasps out, very much not fine. “Fuck.”

“C’mon, Red,” Frank urges him. He reaches out a hand, keeping it hovering above Matt’s arm for several moments before touching him, giving him ample time to sense him and move away even with his senses out of whack. He tugs Matt down slightly, but it’s enough for him to half-sit, half-collapse back into his seat.

“I’m- I’m trying to do good,” he manages to get out eventually. He turns towards Foggy, expression pleading and desperate. “I’m trying to be good.”

“You couldn’t have started volunteering at soup kitchens instead?” Foggy asks jokingly, but it comes out choked. “Like- literally anything else, Matt.”

He gives a weak shrug. “I have these abilities, and I- I can hear everyone who needs help. I can help them when no one else even knows that they’re suffering. Every cry, every plea for help- there’s a lot, in this city. How can I stay idle?”

Frank clears his throat. “Alright, so you figure you should help other people with your skills. You gotta ignore the law sometimes to actually get shit done, but you’re doing good.” He juts his chin out at Foggy as if asking, You got any problems with  that, pal?

Foggy twitches. “Okay,” he concedes after several painstakingly long moments. “I don’t- I’m still not the biggest fan. But you’re definitely doing it because you’re a stupidly good asshole with weird ninja skills, and I trust you, so. I can deal.” He pauses. “If you’re going to keep doing this - I assume you’re going to keep doing this - you have to change it up, though.”

And hearing Foggy say, ‘I trust you’ so truthfully and firmly warms Matt’s heart. Immediately, he feels some of the tension leak out of his shoulders. “What do you mean?”

“Plenty of people got descriptions of you, and if you keep it up it won’t be long before someone is able to recognize you on the street or something.” He snaps his fingers. “You need a costume.”

Frank scoffs. “No- no way. You want him to dress up like Captain America, fucking bright colors and symbolism when he’s supposed to be stealthy?”

“Well, obviously not.” Foggy rolls his eyes. “But like- something to help hide your face, at least. And something besides the clothes you literally wear to school.” Which is a fair point, honestly. Matt kind of just ditches his glasses, keeps to the shadows, and hopes for the best.

“I’ll think about it,” Matt tells them honestly. The symbolism isn’t a bad idea, though. He wonders how much he could push it while still being intimidating.

Foggy leans back, pleased. “Good to hear, buddy. You gotta look out for yourself, okay? It doesn’t matter if you’ve got this guy,” he juts a thumb towards Frank, “watching your back. Okay?”

Matt chuckles. “Okay,” he agrees. Frank’s a warm and comforting presence by his side, and he doesn’t notice he’s leaning towards it until their arms brush. “Oh! Sorry.” He moves to sit up straight, but Frank puts a hand on his arm and pulls him back.

“I’m supposed to be lookin’ out for you, aren’t I? Best if you keep close.”

Foggy coughs pointedly, which Matt ignores, also pointedly. His cheeks are burning red, but heat’s collected in the back of Frank’s neck and in the tip of his ears, so he thinks it’s worth it.

There were ups and downs, sure, but it seems like his luck hasn’t run out yet. Matt leans into Frank a little more, closes his eyes, and hopes it lasts for just a little bit longer.

Chapter Text

It makes sense that this is when everything starts to go wrong.

Brett and Marci both seem to know there’s a lot that Matt (as well as Frank and Foggy) are trying to keep under wraps, though thankfully they don’t push for answers. Well, Brett doesn’t, at least; Marci makes enough passive-aggressive comments for Frank to start avoiding being anywhere near her. (Matt’s pretty sure the only reason she isn’t being straight-up aggressive is that she feels bad for him, which sucks because he hates being pitied, but he supposes it’s better than having her go after all three of them for explanations.)

He spends a decent amount of time with Karen and Dinah, but despite their best efforts, the fact that he’s third-wheeling them is painfully obvious. And even besides that, he doesn’t feel quite comfortable enough to share with them everything he did with Frank and Foggy, and he can tell the secrets are starting to weigh down heavier on them with each passing day.

No one’s quite sure what to make of his nighttime activities, and he’s only getting more and more attention from the media despite his attempts to keep everything low-key. While he keeps to the same level of crime, the amount of time and energy he puts into it increases, and as a result, he gets far less sleep and far more bruises than he had before. It feels good to be helping people - finally, after having been able to for so long - but there’s an ache in his chest that’s beginning to grow bigger and more painful after each night.

(What if he could do more? Who else could he be helping but isn’t? When should he stop? Can he stop?)

Frank and Foggy don’t really get along, and the times when they’re in the same room together is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved. They’re both incredibly stubborn, a trait Matt finds somewhat admirable but mostly annoying when they refuse to listen to each other for more than a minute. It’s especially frustrating considering they’re the two people he’s closest to, and their feelings matter to him more than anyone else’s - which makes it difficult when their opinions of each other are less than stellar.

As for him and Frank… Matt has no idea what’s going on. Occasionally, Frank will say or do something that makes Matt feel like he feels the same way that Matt does, but he never acts on them. Matt would make a move if he wasn’t a) terrified of losing him (and everyone else in his life, honestly, but at least he’s only opening his heart up to them so much - if he and Frank pursued whatever it was that was going on between them, and it ended for whatever reason, he’d be losing a lover and a friend), and b) absolutely clueless in regard to relationships, especially romantic ones.

The real kicker, though, is a familiar scent in the park closest to his apartment.

*

It’s a Saturday afternoon, and Matt is relaxing with Frank at what is probably not a date, but he honestly has no clue. They’re sitting on the cleanest bench they could find, taking a break after having been exploring Hell’s Kitchen when Matt takes a long, peaceful breath in and freezes.

It’s faint, but if Matt focuses he can trace it throughout the perimeter of the park: blood and dirt, sandalwood and incense. He gags immediately, standing and tugging frantically at Frank’s sleeve.

“Murdock? You alright?” Frank lets himself be pulled up, quickly looking around them. “What’s going on?”

“Fucking- Stick,” he hisses.

Frank’s heart jumps in his chest. “What? Is he here?” His scanning of the park is more frantic and determined, now, a sense of urgency and panic that hadn’t been there before. It’s reassuring to have a reminder of how little Frank knows and cares for Stick, although Matt wishes it had come under better circumstances.

“Not- not now,” he manages to say. “But he was here.” He strains his ears, doing his best to map out each trace of his former teacher, trying to piece together what he did, how long ago it had happened, and how long he had spent doing it.

“Alright.” Frank’s voice is forcibly calm, all of the tension keeping his body rigid. “Where do you want to go?”

Matt shakes his head. “I don’t- Frank,” he pleads. “Why is he back?”

“I don’t know, Red,” Frank replies, and one of the most terrifying things about the situation is how unsettled and nervous Frank is as well - another testament to how much of a threat Stick poses to Matt’s everything.

Matt’s about to say something, ready to snap at Frank in frustration even if the other boy has been nothing but supportive and kind, when a warm hand covers his own.

“Whatever’s going on, we can handle it,” Frank tells him, shaky but determined and exactly what Matt needs to hear. “I’m watching out for you, remember?”

He nods, energy sapped out of him in an instant and leaving him bone-achingly tired. Everything that he had been sorting through so frantically earlier washes over him in waves of sensory input that he couldn’t even dream of analyzing now. “Thank you, Frank,” he murmurs.

“Anytime, Red.” He gently pulls his sleeve free of Matt’s grip, intertwining their fingers together. They sit together quietly to collect themselves before Frank speaks again. “You wanna head to my place? We can order a pizza or something, put on a movie.”

Matt just nods again, not having the energy to do anything else.

Frank does a sort of hum-grunt noise that Matt thinks is supposed to serve as an acknowledgment before helping guide Matt towards the direction of his apartment. “It’s gonna work out,” Frank says, so quietly it seems more like he’s saying it convince himself than anything else.

Matt hopes it works- at least one of them ought to believe it.

*

Despite their best attempts at keeping things lighthearted and neutral, there’s a somber cloud that hovers over the both of them.

Matt chews on his pizza, half-smiling at a joke that would normally have him cackling, and tries to ignore the feeling of inevitable impending doom.

Frank seems to be trying to do the same, keeping himself busy with plenty of comments and wry jokes, moving around the room to do whatever he can think of.

“It’s not like I’ll mind the mess,” Matt says amusedly as Frank tries to clean up some of his ‘fucking ridiculously cluttered’ counter space.

“It’s the point of the matter, Red,” Frank retorts. He continues to sort through the space, but eventually just gives up and shoves a large portion of the items into a drawer.

“Where’d that come from, anyway?”

“Hmm?” Frank struggles to cram everything in, and he tilts his head up to look at Matt briefly before returning to his task.

“‘Red’,” Matt elaborates. “Why do you call me that? When’d you even start?”

Frank shrugs, giving up on the drawer and moving back to his seat. “Just- suited you.”

“A color suited me?” Matt repeats dryly. “Well, it sure sucks that I can’t see it.”

Frank waves his hands in the air. “Fucking smartass,” he huffs. “When we first met, you were all- red.”

Matt’s first instinct is to tease him some more, but there’s an awkward sort of honesty hiding beneath Frank’s words and demeanor that stops him. “How do you mean?”

“Your split knuckles, for one,” Frank says easily. “But also, uh, when you get all worked up and whatever, your cheeks get all red. So.”

Matt feels his face heat up in response. “Oh,” he manages to say.

“Yeah.” Frank rubs his head, a nervous tick that Matt is a lot more fond of than he probably should be. “Anyways, that’s how it came about, I guess.”

“Cool,” Matt nods stiffly. He tries to will the blush away from his face, but it seems insistent on embarrassing Matt for as long as possible.

Frank clears his throat noisily. “Do you wanna watch something? I got some DVDs laying around here somewhere.”

“Uh, sure. Go ahead and pick whatever.” He shifts to be slightly closer to the TV but makes sure to leave plenty of room between him and Frank.

Frank, as it turns out, seems to have something against this plan. “Quit bein’ all shy and get over here.” Frank tugs him closer, grip soft despite the gruffness of his words. Matt could pull away or resist easily if he wanted to, but he moves obligingly and both of them try to ignore what it means.

*

He’s startled awake by too-familiar footsteps entering the building’s lobby. He sits up rigidly, senses zeroing in on the man making his way up to the apartment, not a fraction of hesitation in each step.

“Frank,” he whispers hoarsely. When Frank continues to sleep, Matt grabs his shoulder and shakes him violently. “Frank, wake the hell up!”

“Jesus, Murdock, what?” Frank yawns, grumbling as he struggles to move out of his slouched position.

“Stick’s coming,” Matt tells him quickly. “He’ll be here in a little over a minute.”

That gets Frank wide awake immediately. “He what? ” He scrambles to his feet, nearly slipping in his haste.

Matt clenches and unclenches his fists, fingers twisting. It’s too much, too soon, and all he can hope is that whatever damage Stick causes won’t be permanent (well, no more permanent than the emotional trauma that’s been plaguing him since he first started training under him, but regardless). “What- what’s the game plan?”

Frank swears. “I don’t know, fucking-” He takes in a ragged breath before turning to face Matt head-on. “We can either see what he wants now or we can keep running away from him whenever he gets close. Or try and get a restraining order on him, but I don’t think that’s as valid of an option as the other two.”

“None of those are good.” Matt winces. He wants to run away, terror clawing at his heart and threatening to swallow him whole. But they can only avoid Stick for so long, and he wants desperately to be in control of himself and his fears, so he stays still. “We’ll- I’m going to stay. I won’t ask you to be here for this, you- you can leave.”

Frank scoffs. “I’m staying, Murdock. Unless you want me to leave, I’m staying by your side till the end.”

Matt’s heart beats furiously in his chest at the words. “Right. I- thank you, Frank.”

“Like I said before, anytime. You ready?”

Matt laughs dryly. “No. But I won’t ever be, so it doesn’t matter.”

Frank takes his hand again, giving it a gentle squeeze. He’s about to say something when there’s a single knock on the door.

“Knock knock,” Stick says mockingly. “Who’s home?”

Frank growls under his breath and releases Matt’s hand, stalking forward to the door.

Matt puts a hand against his chest to stop him. He shakes his head minutely and Frank backs off, letting him approach the entrance. He opens it without preamble, barely restraining a flinch at the overwhelming smell taste presence of the older man. “Stick,” he says blankly.

“Matty,” he returns, and Matt clenches his hands into fists to stop himself from immediately lashing out at his condescending tone.

“What do you want, Stick?” he bites out.

“To talk- no need to get your panties in a twist.”

Matt crosses his arms, doing his best to give his most unimpressed look even though Stick can’t actually see it. He can probably sense it, or feel it, and that’s enough motivation for Matt to keep doing it.

“I told you about a war, brat. It’s coming, and you’re going to fight in it.”

“No,” he says, summoning every bit of conviction he can muster. “Absolutely not. I’m done with you and your made-up wars, Stick, I mean it.”

“Too bad you don’t have a say in it, then.” He whistles, a short, shrill sound that makes Matt flinch, and the door to the apartment down the hall opens and the occupant walks toward them nonchalantly, steps confident and sure.

“Matty, meet Ellie.” Stick gestures at the stranger when they enter the apartment. “And unless you want your precious city to get destroyed then yeah, you’re a part of the war.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Frank cuts in. Matt moves towards him automatically, using Frank’s familiar presence to ground himself so he can jut his chin out defiantly at Stick.

Stick is far from impressed by Matt’s behavior. “It means that the war’s well on its way, and it’s going to end with Hell’s Kitchen in ruins unless we stop it. And don’t worry, you can have your guard dog join too, Matty.”

Frank scowls but refuses to rise to the bait.

The stranger, a teenage girl around their age, chuckles quietly. “No need to get worked up,” she remarks casually. “There are more important things to be upset about.”

“Like this fake war?” Matt supplies.

Ellie scoffs. “Like you know anything about it? It’s far more real than whatever you hope to happen between you and your little friend.”

Matt twitches. “You wanna take that back?” he asks lowly.

She cocks her head to the side, regarding him quietly. Eventually, she says, “No, not particularly.”

Matt’s half a second away from lunging at her, but Frank’s voice stops him. “How ‘bout this: you explain your fucking war, and if by the end of it we still think you’re spouting bullshit, then you leave. If you somehow manage to convince us, then we’ll figure out what to do from there.”

Stick shrugs, but Matt knows he’s irritated in the way his breaths turn sharper. “You wanna play it that way, fine. Now sit down and let me talk.”

Matt barely keeps himself from dropping to the ground immediately, instead squaring his shoulders and keeping his feet planted on the ground. “I can hear you plenty well as is,” he says.

Stick rolls his eyes. “Fucking brat.”

“Fucking bitch,” he replies sweetly. Stick’s hand twitches and Matt can’t help his victorious grin, only a little sharp and angry at the corners.

Maybe things won’t be as bad as he thought they’d be.

Chapter Text

Stick, in typical Stick fashion, doesn’t actually bother to give any information to them. After plenty of antagonizing comments and insults, he tells Ellie to behave, then walks out of the apartment, ignoring Matt and Frank’s demands that he stay and explain literally anything like he said he would.

Ellie is slightly more helpful, but she’s far more difficult to get a read on, which makes Matt more than a little uneasy.

“Come on, Matthew, let’s just go a few rounds. What harm could it do?” she asks. Her voice is sweet and earnest, but there’s not a single doubt in Matt’s mind that she’s not being entirely transparent with her request.

“Plenty,” Frank answers for him. He’s leaning against a nearby wall with his arms crossed, and Matt can almost feel the disapproval from his gaze. “You wanna join the old man, or you wanna chill the fuck out?”

Ellie ignores Frank. “Don’t tell me you have a thing against hitting women,” she scoffs. “You quit your training a while ago, Matthew. It’s not like you’re even guaranteed to land a hit.”

She’s goading him, trying to push at his buttons until he caves and does whatever it is she wants, but she’s far more successful at getting a rise out of Frank than she is from Matt.

“Cool,” he says dryly. “If that’s all you have to say, I’m going to go study. Frank, you wanna join?” Normally, Frank would do literally anything else to avoid studying when there isn’t even a test or quiz coming up, but now he jumps at the opportunity.

“Sure. Some stuff in my stats textbook makes no fuckin’ sense.”

Ellie tenses at the dismissal. “How about this? I’ll answer a few of your questions, but only if you’ll fight me.”

Frank rolls his eyes. “Girl, what is it with you and wanting to fight?”

She glares at him but doesn’t bother with a reply, turning her head back around to face Matt. “Well?”

Matt looks to Frank for some sort of indication on what he thinks is the best course of action. Frank gives a half-hearted sort of shrug but nods, so Matt shakes to loosen up his shoulders. “Alright. Tap out if we need a break.”

Ellie scoffs as she ties her hair into a ponytail, all precision with no wasted movements. It makes him a little sad to witness someone whose training from Stick became such an instinctual part of them that it was instilled in every one of their movements. “Did Stick not get around to teaching you about how tapping out-”

“Is the same as losing? No, he made his opinion pretty clear. But as far as I’m concerned, this match is between me and you, and Stick isn’t here. So we tap out if we need a break,” he tells her.

Her pulse jumps, surprised, but her body remains still and composed. Stick must be proud of her. Or, Stick would be proud of her, if he was capable of feeling any emotion besides anger and bitterness. “Of course, Matthew,” she purrs. “Your rules.”

His eye twitches. “Right.” He turns to Frank, who’s barely stopping himself from seething where he stands. It was your idea, he tries to convey to him through a raise of his brow. “Would you prefer if we did this here or somewhere else?”

“Here,” Frank answers immediately, and Matt nods. He had initially thought it would be best if they sparred somewhere that was designed to have matches - a gym like Fogwell’s, or something similar - but he realized Frank would probably hate having Matt and Ellie out of his sight, especially in an unfamiliar environment.

“I hope you’re not too fond of this table, then.” Ellie runs a finger across the surface of Frank’s coffee table.

“I was going to move it, smart ass,” Frank grumbles, shoving the table and chairs so that they’re along the sides of the room, leaving the middle of the room empty. “You happy now, your highness?”

“Well, I suppose it’ll do.” She shifts her weight from foot to foot, heartbeat picking up slightly in anticipation of what’s about to happen. “Come on, Matthew, and don’t go easy on me or I’ll break your arm.”

“You could’ve just asked without the threat,” Matt grumbles under his breath. “First, one question. Then we’ll start.”

She groans. “You really are a stick in the mud, aren’t you? Fine, ask one question, then we’ll spar.”

Matt inclines his head towards Frank, who gets the message quickly. After a pause, Frank asks, “What’s the war about? Money? Power? Resources?”

“That’s what you decide to ask?” She tsks. “To answer your question, it’s all three. Now step up, Matthew. Don’t keep me waiting.”

Matt rolls his eyes but steps forward, keeping his body loose and relaxed as he listens to Ellie’s body coil up, ready to strike.

She swings a leg into the air which Matt dodges easily enough. She’s fast, but her body telegraphs what she’s going to do early enough that Matt has time to evade her without a problem. She huffs and lunges forward, throwing punches and kicks in a flurry, backing him towards the wall.

He waits until she attempts another roundhouse kick at him before he ducks under it, moving back toward the center of the room.

She catches the back of his shirt and yanks him backward. “Stop running,” she hisses, “and fight.” She delivers a harsh blow against his sternum and he staggers back until he hits the wall.

Shaking his head to clear it, he hears Frank across the room, speaking so quietly there’s no way anyone but him could hear it.

“You heard the lady, Red. Give her hell.”

Matt doesn’t particularly want to go all out, but he supposes it’s better than getting beaten to hell and back. He lets one of Ellie’s hits land, and he uses the momentary surprise to grab her arm, doing a flip in the air so that she lands on her back, the air shoved out of her lungs.

She scrabbles up the moment he loosens his grip on her arm, and he can taste her vicious grin in the air. “Finally.” She moves forward again, adrenaline lighting up her limbs like sparks, and it’s far more difficult to block each of her blows.

He manages, right until he doesn’t, and she crashes her elbow against his jaw.

“Got you.” Ellie smirks.

Matt lands a blow to her side and follows it up with a smack against her temple. “Now we’re even.”

They continue to spar, thoughts of an impending war long forgotten as they exchange blows back and forth, and Matt would almost say it’s fun, except then Ellie lands a blow directly against his ear, and everything falls apart.

The world wobbles and shifts around him, the walls and floor caving in and Matt staggers, arm instinctively raised to try and find something to support himself. “T-time,” he tries to say, but he can barely hear his own voice. He can feel his vocal cords vibrate in his chest, and he hopes he spoke at a reasonable volume.

A familiar warmth approaches him, and he tries to lean toward it as much as he can without sacrificing his balance.

There’s a vague rumbling that Matt assumes is Frank and Ellie talking, but he can’t make out what they’re saying over the ringing in his ears. “I can’t- can’t hear. Gimme a minute.”

He gets a single tap against his hand in acknowledgment, and he does his best to focus his thoughts until his hearing comes back into focus. The worst part is that it’s still there, just shoved off-kilter so that none of the sounds of the world around him make any sense. He clenches his hand until his nails dig into his palm, and he uses the pain to ground himself.

Ellie’s moving, probably pacing judging by the vibrations against the floorboards, and she and Frank continue to speak. Slowly, the world shifts back into place, and the sounds all fit back to where they’re supposed to be.

“-not your fault, then why are you so freaked out?” Frank is asking.

“I’m not freaking out,” Ellie hisses. “I’m merely concerned that I’m supposed to be fighting with someone who only needs one hit to put him out of commission.”

“If that’s what makes you sleep better at night, fine. But quit wearin’ out my floorboards.”

“I will do as I please until Matthew gets his hearing back,” she tells him. “Do not presume-”

“I’m back,” Matt interrupts. “So both of you can take it easy.”

Ellie huffs, crossing her arms against her chest. “I wasn’t worried.”

Matt raises an eyebrow. “I didn’t say you were.”

None of them say anything, and the air is thick with tension for several minutes. Eventually, Ellie speaks, and her voice is low. Quiet, but in a way that seems strong even when Matt knows by her heart means she’s nervous.

“You left Stick. Why?” How?  is unasked, but Matt hears it anyway. He’s always had good hearing, after all.

“I didn’t leave him. It was more like- a mutual split. I wasn’t what he wanted me to be, and he wasn’t who I needed him to be. So I told him I couldn’t keep doing what he wanted me to do, he told me I was stupid, and he left and never came back.”

Ellie’s voice isn’t quite as firm when she speaks again. “He told me I was essential to the war. That I would save lives and fulfill my purpose by fighting in it.”

“Maybe.” Matt shrugs. “I don’t know. But I doubt everything else he told you and did to you was as kind.” Stick had said plenty of half-compliments to him too, but they all paled in comparison of the derogatory comments and insults he received on a regular basis, not to mention to scars and bruises that his body experienced during his training.

He knows from the hitch in Ellie’s breath that she knows exactly what he’s talking about. “He used to have me eat food with bits of laxatives and toxins in them so that I’d learn not to enjoy food too much.”

“I kneeled on frozen shards of glass,” Matt tells her. A truth for a truth, and all that. At her questioning noise, he explains, “I’m not good with extreme temperatures.”

“He broke a finger each time I didn’t follow his orders on a mission.”

“He only left scars on my back to make sure I’d be careful about being leaving myself exposed and being vulnerable near anyone.”

“As great as this conversation is, how about we stop talking about your abuse-filled childhoods?” Frank cuts in. His heartbeat is accelerated, body tense- he’s on edge, and Matt winces. He probably should’ve thought more carefully about what he said knowing that Frank was in the room.

“Right.” Ellie smooths her shirt out and heads to the door. “Well, this has been lovely. I’ll be taking my leave.” She pauses. “My name is Elektra, by the way. Elektra Natchios.” And then she’s gone, long strides leading her out of the building quickly but steadily.

“Huh,” Matt says.

Frank turns to him and sighs. His heart sounds sad, if that was a thing hearts could sound like. “Huh,” he echoes.

They stand in silence for a few moments, and Matt tries to figure out what the hell he’s supposed to say now.

Chapter Text

School is- awkward, to say the least.

Things are still somewhat strained with everyone, and Frank’s taken to sticking by Matt’s side like the guard dog Stick had mockingly referred to him as, which makes everything a thousand times better and worse.

On one hand, Frank’s always provided a sense of security and comfort Matt hadn’t been able to find since his dad was killed, but on the other, the constant watchfulness and paranoia puts both him on edge. He doesn’t need some knight in shining armor, he needs Frank.

Foggy’s noticed that something is up, and he’s taken to staring at him critically whenever they’re in the same room as though Matt can’t feel his eyes boring into his head.

Matt can barely keep from squirming in his seat, and by the end of the day he marches over to his friend with little preamble, Frank trailing behind. “Some shit may or may not be going down. If it is, it’s going to be dangerous and I don’t want you to be near it. If it isn’t, I’ll tell you about it later.”

Foggy huffs and leans against his locker. “You expect me to just sit on the side while you’re off doing who knows what? If it’s dangerous for me, it’s dangerous for you, buddy.”

“But I can-” Matt scrubs a hand over his face in frustration. How was he supposed to explain everything in a way that wouldn’t upset Foggy or make him want to help? “My skills are pretty much matched for what’s about to happen. Whatever danger there is, I should be able to handle it.”

“Should? And what if you can’t?”

“Then I will.” Frank’s voice is just as solid as the rest of him, and he must look similarly because Foggy takes one look at him and relaxes slightly.

“I still don’t like it,” Foggy tells him. “Just promise me you’ll come to me for help when you need it. None of your typical brooding and suffering by yourself bullshit, okay?”

Matt chuckles softly. “Of course, Fog. Just- stay out of trouble, okay?”

Foggy nudges his arm gently. “Alright, alright. You don’t have to convince me to try to not get killed. You gotta try to not make too many bad decisions, bud.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Alright. Catch you later, then. See ya, Frank.” Foggy gives him a pat on the shoulder before heading off, and Matt and Frank begin their trek to Matt’s apartment.

The walk is silent - Matt is pretty sure Frank doesn’t even realize how tense it is with how preoccupied he is with keeping track of all of their surroundings.

He unlocks his apartment a little more aggressively than normal, but Frank doesn’t even say a word. Instead, he’s moving toward the windows, glancing around outside for several long moments before drawing the curtains shut.

It’s only when Matt slams his refrigerator door shut that Frank even glances at him, and even then it’s only a passing look. He’s back to surveying the apartment for traps like Matt isn’t able to sense them himself, and it irritates Matt far more than it should.

He unzips his backpack angrily, swearing when the zipper gets caught several times on the worn fabric. He tries to work on some of his homework, but he’s too frustrated to focus on anything for longer than a couple of seconds.

He shoves himself away from his table, stalking over to the door for some fresh air or space or something that would let some of the bitter emotions bubbling up in his chest out.

“Hey!” Frank’s in front of him in an instant, and Matt rolls his eyes hard enough it must be visible even from behind his glasses. “What’re you doing?”

“Leaving. What does it look like I’m doing?” Matt retorts.

“Where to?” Frank presses. He pauses, finally noticing the rigidity to Matt’s posture that’s been worsening as the day went on. “Red, are you okay?”

“I'm fine,” he hisses. “Why don’t you keep looking around my apartment and quit asking me stupid questions?”

Frank recoils sharply. “Woah, what? Are you- upset at me? Did I do something?”

Matt rolls his eyes again. “Did you do anything?”

Frank stares at him, mouth gaping. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks finally. “I’ve been paranoid all day, trying to cover your ass in case-”

“Did I ask you to?” Matt cuts him off. “Did you consider that I don’t need or want you to be doing any of that? Am I supposed to feel grateful that you’re doing all this bullshit for me when it’s just to make you feel better?” His heart is pounding in his ears, so loud he can barely hear the thrum of the city around him.

“I’m sorry, Red, I didn’t realize-” Frank sighs. “I should’ve talked to you about it. I wasn’t thinking.”

And that’s great to hear, but it does little to actually dispell the anger that’s been building up inside of him. He needs to clear his head, and he can’t do it anywhere near Frank.

“I’m going on a walk,” Matt tells him. His words are clipped, far harsher than he’d talk to Frank on any other occasion, but he’s angry and hurt and it feels like he’s alone in all of this despite Frank being physically close to him. “Don’t bother coming with me.”

Frank swallows thickly but nods. He stays still as Matt leaves and shuts the door behind him, leaving the building and walking away, feet planted to the ground.

There’s an ache in Matt’s chest at hurting his friend, but even more than that, the terrible feeling of helplessness and fear claws at his chest. His brisk pace turns to a sprint, and he runs and runs without a break, only managing to hold himself together by concentrating on his pounding heart and throbbing legs. He can feel tears forming in his eyes and he rubs at them furiously, only stopping when he collapses against an alley wall for breath. Each exhale feels like it takes a bit of his hope with it, and he sinks down until he’s sitting on the ground.

After what could be hours or minutes, his breaths come steadier and his hands stop trembling enough for him to pull off his glasses and fold them up. He drops his head against the wall with a thunk, letting his eyes slip shut as his mind starts to clear.

He allows his senses to wander through the city around him, taking in the people and buildings and all of the things that make them up. He zeroes in on a group of men almost a block away, the tang of blood so thick that Matt can taste the remnants in the air from where he’s sitting. He cocks his head, easing himself into a standing position as he focuses on them.

Six adult men, standing in what seems to be a large conference room, with heartbeats so quiet Matt can’t catch a trace of them from this distance. He moves closer, easily scaling the building across from them, careful of any passerby that could catch sight of him.

He still can’t hear their hearts, which is as confusing as it is alarming, and he freezes when one of the men speaks.

“Only a few more must be gathered. Then there should be enough for at least two uses, but we must be cautious. If he is in the city, then there is no doubt that he is searching for us.”

It’s Japanese, which isn’t unusual if he’s in the part of the city he thinks he is, but there’s something about the stranger’s words and tone that sends a wave of unease over him. Matt didn’t really think it was possible to be that vague yet ominous, and he’d be impressed if he didn’t feel like they were talking about something he’d be horrified of.

“No one has suspected anything about those we already took, and so long as we keep it this way there should be little complications,” the voice continues. He must move his arms or hands or something because the men around him all change their stance in response before leaving in different directions.

He tries to track the man who had spoken - the leader, if he had to guess - but without an audible heartbeat, it’s nearly impossible. He’d have to be far closer in order to use his other senses - smell and taste require close proximity to be of much use with how everything disperses in the air.

He strains his ears as he tries to move as close as he can while still remaining hidden, trying to discern anything that could be of use- the shift of fabric, the quietest footfall, or a short exhale. It takes several painstakingly long moments, but eventually, he catches the slightest scuffle of a rubber sole against concrete, and he’s jumping forward before he even notices it.

He trails the man, who is far too quiet as he moves down the street, barely making a sound before he steps up to a parked car. The door opens for him and he steps inside, and the near-silent noises he had been making become even more muted once the door shuts, sealing the sounds inside.

Grimacing, Matt climbs up a nearby building until he arrives at the roof, bouncing from foot to foot as he prepares for what will be an undoubtedly tiring game of follow-the-car. Sure enough, the vehicle starts up with a low purr, and he has to sprint in order to keep up as it moves through the streets.

He can feel the cold night air biting at his exposed skin, and he shivers but keeps moving forward, desperate to get more information. There’s not a single doubt in his mind that there’s something truly sinister going on, and he’ll be damned if he goes home to avoid the cold when he could learn something that would save someone’s life.

He curls his hands into fists when his fingers start to shake, chest heaving as he stumbles after the car. Each leap across rooftops gets harder and harder to do, and when he’s a little short on one jump, he slams into the corner of the building with a resounding thud. He scrabbles at the tiling until he heaves himself up, stumbling across the roof to try and keep track of the car.

He nearly collapses with relief when he hears the engine cut off, and he lets his body sag against a water tower while he catches his breath.

The man’s footsteps fall slightly heavier now against the loose gravel, a fact for which Matt is incredibly grateful for. It’s far easier to track him, listening as he moves into a nearby building - an abandoned garage, Matt thinks - where a handful of people are standing around. Two of them step forward when the man gets close to them, younger than the man but smelling so heavily of smoke and alcohol that Matt prays they’re older than himself.

“Another shipment will be here within next few weeks,” one of the two says. “We expect to be compensated for being ahead of schedule.” He speaks with a thick Eastern European accent - Matt would say Bulgarian or Russian - and his voice is far too young to be involved with whatever is going on.

The man doesn’t bother acknowledging the words except for a low, “As expected, the children only have their simple desires.” He gives the two a short nod, which they seem to take as an agreement. Matt laughs a little under his breath.

“Good.” A pause. “There are rumors of old man who wants to stop us. How much is true?”

“Enough to be careful,” the man says coldly. He remains still for a moment before turning and heading back to the car, not bothering to discuss things any further. Matt wonders if the guy has any friends with such horrible small-talk skills.

“Fucking weirdo,” the European mutters. He turns to the person beside him, and they bump shoulders. “Pizza?” he calls out to the group and instantly receives cheers of agreement in response.

It doesn’t seem like he’d get much information from the group, but he’s heard enough to start trying to look into things for now. He eases himself to his feet and winces at the aches and strains in his muscles at the action.

I got the pizza last time, so you know what that means!” the voice from before says, and Matt nods to himself as he translates the words. It’s Russian, and with it, the voice sounds much more relaxed.

There’s a groan and a muttered curse, then the shuffle of feet heading away from the rest of the group. There are only two cars nearby, one van and one sedan, and Matt has a stupid idea that may or may not work out.

He manages to get to the car before the Russian does, and the moment the car is unlocked he opens the trunk and slips inside. All of the heartbeats - a normal volume, thank fuck - remain steady, so he relaxes and gets comfortable for what he hopes is a short ride.

He may not be able to learn much from listening in on the group, but he’s fairly certain he’d be able to wheedle some answers out of one member separated from the rest.

The car starts and Matt winces at the thick smell of smoke and take-out that fills the car. He pulls the hem of his shirt up over his nose to try and mute it slightly, and it’s tolerable enough that he manages to fall asleep in the car, letting his body recover from jumping from rooftop to rooftop.

He sleeps and prays that he didn’t make as stupid of a decision as he thinks he did.

Chapter Text

Matt wakes up when the engine cuts out, and it takes some serious effort to hold back his laugh when a familiar set of smells wash over him and he realizes they’re at Capizzi’s. Because it’s not like there are any other pizza places in the entirety of Hell’s Kitchen, right?

It’s slightly harder to leave the car unnoticed than it was to enter it, but thankfully a rowdy group of teenagers provides Matt with all the distraction he needs to slip out and head into the building.

The workers there are all different from the ones on shift when Matt had last been, which is a relief because Matt really doesn’t know what he’d do if someone recognized him. He’d probably just high tail it out of there if he’s honest, and anything beyond that would be out of pure instinct.

He settles into a booth close to the door - the late hour leaves him plenty of seats to choose between - and waits for the driver to saunter in.

He goes straight for the counter, stride strong and sure but not quite as steady as Frank’s, and the comparison makes Matt wince. Most of his anger has faded by now, but there’s still an underlying feeling of hurt he can’t quite seem to push away. The stranger is wearing a leather jacket which even worsens the similarities between him and Frank, so Matt tries to pick apart each individual fragrance clinging to the stranger in order to distract himself.

Matt contemplates getting something to eat while he’s there, but he decides against it. In case something went down (which knowing his luck, it probably would), it’d be best if he didn’t leave a trail of where he’s been. He reminds himself of Stick’s training and tries to ignore the hunger clawing at his stomach.

Knuckles rap on the table just inches away from where Matt had been drumming his fingers absently, and he startles. He tilts his head towards them, and he tenses when he realizes it’s the driver.

“May I help you?” he asks. He had been aiming for a nonchalant and totally not-suspicious tone, but he’s pretty sure he missed by a mile. He’s grateful for his glasses, shielding him even a tiny bit from an otherwise penetrating stare.

He gets a short grunt in reply. “Are you here by yourself?” His voice is far gentler than Matt had been expecting, and it catches him by surprise so much he nearly misses the words.

He pauses. If he’s asking because he knew what Matt was up to and wanted to beat him up, it probably would be wise to say he was with friends. But there’s still that thrumming in his blood - of frustration and hurt and everything only Frank seems to be able to bring out in him - and fighting has always helped him clear his head (even if it ended up breaking him afterward).

“Yeah, I- I’m by myself,” he says eventually. “What about you?”

“Just me.” He pulls out something from his pocket that has Matt tensing, ready to spring into action, but a few taps later and Matt eases once he determines it’s just a cell phone. The Russian slips the device back into his coat pocket and sits in the seat across from Matt.

Matt blinks. Was he planning on attacking Matt from across the table? It seems kind of difficult, not to mention inconvenient.

“Boy like you should not be out so late,” he says, tongue curling over the words like molten lava. “There are wolves in city- is dangerous.”

Matt raises a single brow. What kind of threat was that? “I think I can handle a few wolves,” he says dryly.

“Is that so?” His heart beats faster - in anticipation of the fight, Matt supposes - and the smell of smoke and leather is nearly overpowering as he leans across the table. “Some wolves bite,” he murmurs. “Are you still unafraid?”

This is honestly not going like Matt thought it would. These are quite possibly the worst lines he’s had directed at him, and he almost feels bad for the guy. Who the hell thought those kinds of cliches would actually make someone scared? “I don’t exactly notice any wolves around me. Or anything particularly intimidating, for that matter.”

The guy huffs and slides out of the booth to take a seat beside Matt instead. Matt tenses, but it doesn’t seem like he’s going to get stabbed any time soon, so he relaxes marginally. He scoots closer, Matt refusing to back away in whatever sort of posturing competition this was, and it isn’t long before their sides are pressed together. “Maybe you need to pay better attention.”

Matt is starting to think this guy is looking for something a bit different from a fight. “Um.” He leans away slightly. “Uh, what’s your name?”

“You can call me… Victor.” The pause doesn’t escape Matt’s notice, and while there isn’t any indication that he had told a lie, Matt doubts that Victor is the stranger’s actual name. Although it seemed to be a name he came up with on the spot, so it was likely the alias had some connection to his actual name. “And you?”

“Michael,” he replies easily, an instinctive response from when he had to lie to countless strangers while he had been with Stick. It technically was his name, so in case anyone was able to detect lies like he could or through any other method, it should pass without a problem.

“Pleasure to meet you, Michael,” Victor says. “Why don’t we get to know each other a little better, hm?”

Matt twitches. “Are you- are you flirting with me?” He’s well aware of how foolish he sounds, but he’s honestly really confused and needs to be sure.

The question earns him a short bark of laughter. “Yes.” He presses in closer, and Matt swallows against a lump in his throat. Stick’s trained him for situations just like this- if he could get himself together he could have all of the information he needed within a few hours. But the knowledge doesn’t keep his hands from shaking, and he does his best to hide it with his most charming smile.

“Good,” he manages to say with a steady voice. “So, Victor, what do you like to do in your spare time?”

*

Leather (soft leather, gentle and firm and unwavering leather he wants to hold tight and never let go) flows in from the door, and Matt turns toward it automatically. It takes a moment for the information to sink in, and he jolts, because fuck.

Frank makes his way to the counter and orders a large plain cheese pizza. He doesn’t seem to notice Matt’s there, attention locked on his phone as he waits by the counter for his order to be done.

“My brother would like you,” Victor continues. “We have very similar tastes.”

Matt forces a smile. “Is that so? Your brother- what’s his name?”

“Anatoly,” Victor responds automatically, then winces. An unintentional truth, then. Matt’s grin is far more genuine this time.

“I’d love to meet him sometime.” And beat answers out of both of you, he wants to say. He bites his tongue and tries to keep the smile pasted on his face steady.

“Maybe you shall,” Victor murmurs. “You are- good company.”

Frank’s pizza is almost done, and Matt doesn’t think he can stay in Victor’s company for much longer, not when Frank is within his reach. He has to get more information, though - anything to justify him metaphorically selling himself to some criminal accomplice. “When are you free? We could meet up sometime. Do you work?”

“Yes, my work is- time-sensitive. I will be very busy this month, I’m afraid.”

So most of whatever is going down is still in the works, but it’s definitely already started. And Matt’s fairly certain it’s going to be something big. “Ah, well, that’s a shame.” It really isn’t. Matt doesn’t particularly want to spend any more time with Victor than he has to. “Anyways, it’s late. I should be going.” He forces his way out of the booth, ignoring Victor’s confused noises.

“I can-”

“It was great talking to you,” Matt tells him cheerfully. “Maybe we’ll run into each other again.” He speed walks out of the store and immediately scales the building, listening carefully as Victor bursts out of the store and tries to find him.

“Fucking unbelievable,” Victor hisses, and he storms back inside to grab the pizzas he had ordered (which are cold by this point, and Matt can’t help the snicker that rises up in the back of his throat) before heading back into his car and driving off.

It’s only after he’s a few blocks away that Matt drops back to the ground, immediately searching the area around him for Frank.

“I’m guessing you already had something to eat,” Frank says dryly from behind him.

Matt whirls around, taking a step forward automatically but stopping himself. “No, I- I didn’t.”

“Really? After your little pizza date with that gangster wannabe?”

Matt freezes. “It wasn’t- it wasn’t a date. I was just getting information, Frank, it wasn’t like that.”

Frank nods, but Matt knows he doesn’t believe him. And somehow that hurts more than any of the injuries responsible for the scars on his back.

“What were you doing here?” he asks eventually. He can’t exactly blame Frank for leaving his apartment, especially to get food, but it’s bizarre that he’d pick this place out of everywhere to visit.

Frank sighs. He sounds defeated, almost, and Matt wants to apologize but he doesn’t know if there’s anything he could say or do that would actually change something. “I figured I’d get you some pizza for when you came back. You said you liked this place.”

And oh, if that doesn’t just rip Matt’s heart to shreds. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I was coming back, I just-”

“No, it’s fine.” Matt doesn’t need to hear the jump in his heartbeat to know he doesn’t mean it. “Just take the pizza.” He holds it out to Matt, who shakes his head furiously.

“No. We- we can eat it together, right? You haven’t eaten anything in a while.” Matt gives him his most pleading expression, and he takes a step forward to hold Frank’s wrist when he remains silent. “We can eat and I’ll explain everything.”

There’s a long, heavy pause where Matt is certain Frank is going to say ‘no, I’m sorry, but I can’t deal with this right now’ before Frank sighs. “Can never say no to you, can I? Alright, fine. But we’re not doing this out here. My place or yours?”

“Yours,” Matt says. He wants Frank to feel as comfortable and relaxed as he can, so being in a familiar environment is probably best. “If that’s okay.”

Frank sighs again. “Yeah, yeah. Let’s go before it gets any later, alright?”

They head off in silence, and Matt trails behind him and prays that he didn’t just mess everything up.

*

Frank waits until they’ve both devoured a slice each before speaking. “So. Start from the beginning.”

Matt lights up at the chance to make it up to Frank. “Um, after I- left, I stumbled on some weird group of people in a meeting or something.”

“Weird how?”

Matt takes another bite of pizza, barely chewing it before he swallows. He’s hungry, okay? And Stick’s lessons be damned, he’s allowed to eat and he’s going to fucking enjoy it even if it’s the last thing he does. “I couldn’t hear their heartbeats, even from the building across the street. And they all walked almost silently. It was like- like they were ghosts or something.”

Frank makes a contemplative noise before shoveling some more pizza into his mouth. He makes a gesture with his hand Matt takes to mean as ‘go on’.

“They were talking about- gathering something to be used, and I’m not sure, but I think they were talking about Stick being in the city.” Frank makes an irritated sort of grunt. “Yeah, I know. I followed who I guess was the leader, and he met up with some group of young adults or teenagers, I’m not sure, who I think help provide whatever it is they’re trying to collect.”

“And this led to you being slobbered on my some Russian prick how?”

Matt winces. “After the leader left, one of the Russians was sent on a pizza run, so I followed him so I could, uh, ask him a couple of questions.”

Silence.

“Do you mean to tell me,” Frank says slowly, “that you followed one criminal, followed another, and hoped to fucking beat him up until he explained what was going on?”

“Um. Yes?”

Frank puts his pizza down onto the table to throw his hands up in the air. “Your fucking face isn’t even covered! And I doubt you woulda killed the guy, so he would’ve just gone back to his stupid group and ratted you out, and you’d be dead within the week! The hell kind of a plan is that?”

“Look, I never said it was a smart plan,” Matt defends. “Or that I was thinking it through at all.”

Frank groans. “Christ, Red. Nelson really knew what he was talking about when he asked you to limit your shitty choices, huh?”

Matt’s about to retort, but he remembers that he’s trying to explain everything, not make things worse. “Okay. You’re right, and I was being stupid. It won’t happen again.”

“You’re damn right it won’t,” Frank mutters under his breath.

Matt clears his throat. “Anyways, that’s what I was planning to do, except then he, uh.” He fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “Hmm.”

“Out with it, Red,” Frank groans.

“He started flirting with me? I guess? But I figured I could still get some information from him, so I just- let him. Flirt.”

The silence this time is far more heavy. “You didn’t think there was any other way you could get the info you wanted?”

Matt shrugs. “I mean, there are dozens of ways to get information. But when you have a chance like that, you have to take it, you know?”

“He was up in your space like a giant sleazeball, for Christ’s sake! You don’t have to do anything!”

“It was fine,” Matt says, but his voice is weak even to his own ears. “I don’t- it’s not a big deal.”

Frank’s stare seems to pierce right through him. “You were uncomfortable,” he says. “It’s a big deal. Why’d you think that you had to put yourself through that kind of shit for some stupid info, anyway? Did someone fucking-” He cuts himself off, and his voice is hard when he speaks next. “Stick.”

Matt gives a noncommittal kind of head tilt, but it’s more than enough for Frank.

Frank stands up, pacing around the room angrily with heavy steps. “I’m gonna castrate that son of a bitch, I swear. When I get my fucking hands on him, I’m gonna-”

“It’s-”

“If you say ‘it’s fine’ or ‘it’s not a big deal’ one more time, I’m going to throw the rest of the pizza at your face, Murdock, I swear to God.” And that’s a definite truth, so Matt shuts up. He doesn’t really want the pizza to go to waste, and he’s still kind of hungry.

“There’s nothing you can do about it now,” he says instead.

Frank sighs tiredly, collapsing back onto his seat. “I know,” he says, voice quiet. “I know.”

*

They manage to finish the pizza, and while they don’t really talk, it isn’t as tense as it had been just an hour previously.

“I should, uh- I should probably get going.” Matt stands and unfolds his cane. He doesn’t particularly want to leave - he wants to stay by Frank’s side for as long as he can - but he doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. Frank’s tired and stressed because of Matt, and staying the night would only make things worse.

“It’s late,” Frank says.

“Yeah, that’s why I’m leaving?” Matt gives him a weird look. “Thanks for the pizza, Frank.”

Frank sighs. “No- it’s late. You should stay the night.”

Matt shakes his head immediately. “I can make it home okay. You’re probably really tired, so I’ll just-”

“Red. Do you want to leave?” After several long seconds, Matt shakes his head minutely. “Alright. Then you’re staying.”

“If you don’t want me to stay, I-”

Frank groans. “Red, I want you here. Always. Now quit feeling guilty and wash up. Keep your greasy fingers away from my sheets.”

Matt smiles despite his poor mood earlier. Then Frank’s words sink in, and he frowns. “I’m not taking your bed again, Frank.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Goddamit, Red, just take the damn bed!”

“It’s your bed,” Matt says. “You sleep in it.”

“It’s my bed so I decide who sleeps in it,” Frank retorts. “So go.”

Matt tilts his chin up in defiance. “No. I’m not kicking you out of your own bed.”

Frank groans. He makes a muffled shouting noise from behind his hands then sighs. “If we both take the fucking bed will you be happy?”

Matt blinks. He hadn’t considered them sharing a bed, but now that the thought’s in his head he likes it far more than he probably should. “I- yes. That’s fine.”

“Good. Then get your ass to the bathroom and I’ll find you some clothes to sleep in.”

Matt obeys, and sure enough, a t-shirt and athletic shorts are folded neatly on the bed when he searches for them.

Frank gets ready as he changes, and they slide into bed quietly. Even without words being exchanged, it’s comfortable and easy, something Matt thinks he could get used to a lifetime of.

Matt falls asleep thinking he’s a little bit in love.

Chapter Text

Matt is snapped into consciousness by a sharp, piercing scream. He jolts up, and he’s scrambling out of the bed before he even knows what he’s doing, mind a blank haze. The noise level of the city and the slight nip of the wind suggests it’s just a bit before sunrise, although he only vaguely processes the information as he opens Frank’s bedroom window and heads onto the fire escape, then leaps off of it to a nearby building.

The shrieking has tapered down, choked-out sobs and whimpers the only remaining cries.

He runs faster.

By the time he gets there, it’s almost too late. He swings forward and lands on a man with a gun, forcing him to fall to the ground. There are several others around him - all of them backing a woman and a child - a fucking child - into the corner of the alley - and he wastes no time in taking them down.

It’s harder than it should be, the crooks far too adept at working together to take someone down for them to not have experience, and Matt’s blood boils at the thought of however many innocent people have gotten hurt by these criminals.

He gets knocked around a bit, catching a few hits to his head and ribs and back, but he stays standing and does his best to hit them back far harsher than they’re hitting him. Each blow sounds like a drum, the pounding of skin against skin an echoing symphony that drives him harder, faster.

He punches, and kicks, and slams, and throws, and does it all over again until he’s the last one standing, chest heaving with exertion. His lungs burn slightly, fighting to get the thick air of the city past his trembling lips.

He takes a moment to collect himself, taking one, two shuddering breaths in before turning to the victims, who’ve remained backed against the alley wall since the start of the fight.

“Are- are you alright?” he rasps out.

Their heartbeats are thundering, threatening to burst out of their chests, and they remain silent.

Matt sighs wearily and leans against a dumpster for support, then winces at the smell and backs away. “Call the police. Don’t- don’t tell them anything about me.”

Their hearts are starting to calm down, and he could smile in relief at the idea that they’re not scared of him (at least, not as much as they’re scared of their attackers), but their lips remain sealed. Eventually, though, the woman speaks. “Who are you?”

Matt shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. Will you be okay waiting for the cops to arrive?”

A barely audible scoff. “Would you stay if I wasn’t?”

“Yes.” He’d leave before they could catch a glimpse of him of course, but he’d stay for as long as they needed him to. If he could help- make them feel safe...

“Oh. Could you? Stay?” Her voice is shaky but clear, a desperate attempt at maintaining control even with the chaos of everything else that had happened.

Matt nods easily. “I’m just- gonna sit.” He drops to the ground, stretching out his legs and wincing at the aches for the bruises that will undoubtedly show up there and along the rest of his body. “Feel free to take a seat.”

There’s an awkward moment when they just continue to stand and stare at him, but eventually, the woman concedes.

“C’mon, Leo.” The woman sits down, cradling the child against her chest. She whispers quiet assurances against the top of the kid’s head. It’s a private moment, and Matt’s almost grateful for the blows he had received to his head because it makes it difficult to overhear the conversation, even unintentionally.

He’s aware in almost a detached way of how she calls the police, telling them a very condensed version of what had happened and the name of some nearby stores, then hanging up. “I’m going to call my husband,” she tells him, and he thinks he nods, but he isn’t quite sure. Her voice blends into the other noises of the city, slowly rising with the sun.

He leans his head back against the wall and lets his eyes fall shut.

“Alright. You can come if you’d like, or just wait at home until we come back. No, I know. Okay. I’ll see you soon, then. I love you. Mhmm.” She ends the call and slides her phone back into her bag. She regards him quietly for a moment, contemplative and relatively relaxed. “Why did you help?” she asks eventually.

He shrugs, not bothering to open his eyes or face her. It’s not like it’d make much of a difference to him anyway, and he doubted she’d get fussy over a lack of eye contact after everything else that had happened to her. “You needed it,” he says simply. “And because I could.”

“That’s a pretty shi- lame reason.”

He chuckles. “Yeah, well. That’s why.” The briefest of explanations, really. The explanation behind why he wants to (and feels like he ought to) help others is a mess of different reasons, but this specific instance was purely him hearing someone in trouble and going to help them. He hadn’t bothered to think about how or why- someone was in danger, and he had the ability to protect them. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.

She hums thoughtfully. “Huh. Well if that’s true, then thank you. We would’ve-” she cuts herself off and takes a steadying breath in. “We would’ve been in a lot of trouble if you hadn’t shown up.”

Matt cracks an eye open and tries to glance in her general direction. “What happened, anyway? It seemed a bit much for a random mugging.”

She shrugs, faux-casually. “Well, that’s what it was.” Her heart paints the words as a giant lie, so Matt frowns.

“You wanna try that again? Without lying, this time?”

She swallows tightly but keeps her voice light. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He rolls his eyes. “What did you do to get their attention?”

“I don’t-”

“Sarah! Leo!” A figure runs up to them, and Matt lets his head loll to the side to try and get a whiff of their scent but quickly gives up when he can only smell the dumpster from a few feet away. “Oh my God, are you two okay?” He gathers them up in his arms, and Matt figures it’s the husband. He must spot Matt, because his heart, which had already been beating rapidly with worry and relief, suddenly starts pounding erratically. “Murdock?”

He blinks. “Uh, no?” he tries. “I’m- I don’t have a name.”

The stranger groans. “Yeah, you do. It’s me, David.” At Matt’s blank look, he continues. “Micro? You threatened me against a wall?”

Oh. Fuck. “Hi,” Matt says weakly. He waves.

Micro groans even louder. “Jesus. What are you doing here?”

“He saved us,” the woman - Sarah? Leo? Which one was the woman and which was the child? - says. “Kicked their asses.”

Micro presses a kiss to the top of the kid’s head, then against the woman’s cheek. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here,” he murmurs, but she waves him off.

“Don’t, David. It’s okay, we’re safe. Everything’s fine.”

Matt squirms awkwardly. Would it be too weird if he stood now? He should’ve stood earlier because then he’d be able to make a run for it instead of having to listen to all of this.

“Matt,” David says. Matt inclines his head toward him in acknowledgment. “Thank you. Really.”

“You’re welcome.” He rises to his feet and only sways a little bit. “Will you be okay waiting for the police, or do you still want me to stay?”

The woman nods. “You can go. Thank you again.”

“Right.” Matt nods and takes a wobbly step forward. “Stay safe.” He takes another step forward, but it’s like the world slips out from under his feet and he slips forward, barely catching himself on some ventilation units. “Fuck.”

“Dude, maybe you should stay,” David says. “You could probably use some medical attention.”

Matt waves him off. “‘M fine. Don’t want to talk to the cops. I’ll just- get some sleep,” he tells them.

Both of them scoff.

“Where are you going? We’ll check up on you once we’re done- it’s the least we could do,” the woman says.

He tries to turn her down, but his head is throbbing too much for him to know if he actually manages to get the words out.

“Right,” David says slowly. “So either you can tell me where you’re going or I’ll just track you down and we’ll show up anyway.”

“You’ve got a kid,” Matt manages to say. “You should take them home.”

The kid shakes their head emphatically. “Hero,” a little voice declares, “hero’s gotta stay safe.”

Matt does not melt, thank you very much. He’s flattered, that’s all. (Maybe a little smitten.)

David laughs. “You heard the girl. So what’s it gonna be, Matt?”

He sighs. He needs to get back to Frank’s place - if he’s lucky, Frank is still asleep and hasn’t noticed his absence - so he can leave a note, then he’ll lead them to some neutral territory. “I’ll have Foggy text you an address,” he says eventually.

“Good,” the woman says.

“Good,” David echoes. “Right. Get home safe, then.”

He nods, then turns away to do just that.

 

*

The moment he steps onto the fire escape, he knows that he was gone for too long.

He slips back inside and grimaces when two sets of shouting voices go silent, then rise back up again at an even louder volume than before.

“Matt! Where the hell did you go?” Foggy asks frantically.

Frank’s voice is only marginally calmer. “What happened? Why’d you leave?”

He holds up a hand, squeezing his eyes shut as he tries to deal with the volume. “Quieter, please. Might have a concussion.”

“What the fuck, Matt?” Foggy hisses, no less furious even at the low volume.

Matt sighs and turns to Frank. “Why’d you call him over?”

“Because you disappeared in the middle of the night? With no way for anyone to contact you? While there’s a bunch of weird shady shit going on that you've already started to get caught up in?” Frank says. “Gee, I wonder.”

Matt winces. “Okay, that’s fair.”

“So?”

Matt blinks. “So?” he echoes.

“Why’d you leave? Where’d you go?”

“I- hmm.” What was the best way to say it? Was there even a good way to say it? Well, honesty is always good, right? “I heard someone screaming and it woke me up, so I went to help. Now I’m back.”

A beat, and then,

“Go fucking figure”, “Disappointed but not surprised,” Frank and Foggy say.

“Right,” Matt says. “Well, now that you know I’m okay, I’m going to go to, uh- the park, I guess. Oh- did you know Micro is married?”

Foggy chokes. “Micro? Like- the computer guy Micro? What the hell?”

Matt shrugs. “Yeah, I don’t know. Anyways I saved his wife and- their kid? Maybe? And they’re going to check up on me because I lost my balance for a second, so I’m going to go to the park. I don’t want them to know where I live.”

“Well, first of all, that was a lot of information,” Frank says. “And why can’t they just come here?”

“Because it’s your apartment,” Matt says slowly. Does he really need to spell it out for him? “I’m not going to have some strangers in your apartment.”

Frank scrubs at his face. “They’re not- they’re friends of mine. Kind of. Well, Sarah is, maybe, and David just goes along with it.” So Sarah must be the woman, then.

“You’re friends with Micro?” Foggy squeaks. Matt doesn’t blame him, honestly. If Micro’s been friends with Frank from the start, then did Frank know about them asking Micro to look into him?

Frank shrugs, oblivious to their internal panicking. “I guess. His wife and I volunteer at the same place, but we only started talking a couple of weeks ago.” A couple of weeks ago means Frank and Micro hadn’t known each other when they approached Micro, and Foggy and Matt let out a collective sigh of relief.

“Oh, cool. Cool, cool, cool,” Foggy says. “That’s cool. Having friends is cool. Good for you, Frank.”

“Right,” Frank says dubiously. “I’ll just tell them to head over here, then.”

“Want me in your sight that badly?” Matt jokes.

“Yeah,” Frank replies, his tone so matter-of-fact that it catches Matt off guard. “Now sit down and drink some water. There’s a cup on the coffee table on the left side.”

Matt obeys, too stunned to do otherwise, and sips at the water. It helps him to collect himself, and he takes a quick run-through of all of his injuries. Nothing’s broken or sprained, thank goodness, but he’ll probably have some nasty bruises for a couple of weeks.

Foggy sighs. “Take it easy, Matt. Go ahead and veg out if you want. We’ll let you know when Micro and, uh, Sarah arrive.”

Matt nods. Now that he thinks about it, he’d jump at the opportunity to lie down somewhere comfortable. He takes a long gulp of the water then sets it back down on the table, and tilts his head toward Frank. “Uh, can I-”

“Go ahead,” Frank says.

Matt nods and practically jumps into the bed, wrapping himself in the duvet and breathing in the comforting smells. He zones out - too wired up to sleep, but not focused enough to be able to concentrate on everything around him - until the corner of the bed sinks in from an added weight.

“Up and at ‘em, Red,” Frank murmurs teasingly. “You better hurry- Leo’s asking for you.”

Matt forces himself away from the comfortable blankets and trudges after Frank, smiling when the kid - Leo - points at him and whisper-shouts, “Look! He’s okay!” to her parents.

“Hey! How are you feeling?” Sarah asks him. She walks over with Leo clinging to her arm, footsteps solid yet light.

“Not too bad,” he tells her. “You and Leo handling everything okay?”

She nods, then winces. “Sorry, I just-”

“Nodded,” he finishes. “Don’t worry about it.”

Foggy makes a sound that’s a mix between confusion, surprise, and concern that catches his attention.

“You. Are married to Sarah,” Foggy says slowly. “Dude, she’s like, an actual adult? You’re like a kid compared to her!”

Micro chokes, nearly spitting out his coffee on Frank. Frank makes a disgusted noise and steps away. “Sorry, man. And also- what? We’re the same age!”

Foggy blinks. “She’s eighteen?”

“No!” Micro throws his hands up in the air then rubs furiously at his hair. It’s long and curly, and it makes a funny sound as it bounces through the air. Matt would ask him to do it a few more times if they were friends, but as it is, he figures they probably don’t have the sort of relationship where he could ask that. “We’re both twenty-one!”

Foggy makes a strangled noise in the back of his throat, and Sarah muffles her laugh behind her hand.

Matt furrows his brows. “I thought you were a year older than us?”

“What? I look older than Frank, and even he looks old for his age!” Micro says. “Oh fuck, well, uh- I sound older? Actually, no I don’t. Um-”

Matt decides to ignore most of that, turning to face Frank instead. “You’re a senior?”

Frank nods. “Yeah. One year older than you, Murdock.”

“You’ve known each other for how long, and you didn’t know how old he was?” Foggy asks incredulously.

Matt shrugs. “It never came up,” he says.

Foggy huffs. “Right. Well, anyway, Micro’s a fucking adult, and everything is a lie. What else do we wanna talk about?”

“Uh, how about you fighting crime? Like, I suspected it was you from some security cameras and the witness statements, but seriously?” David says. “What’s up with that?”

Matt flounders, unsure of what to say, but thankfully Frank steps in and takes control of the conversation.

“You know, you’re pretty lucky that it was Sarah that was in trouble, and not someone else,” Frank says. “Don’t think most people are willing to hide shit from the police, even if someone who helped them out asks them to.”

“Yeah, buddy,” Foggy agrees. “You can’t keep going out like that. I mean, I don’t really want you going out at all, but I’ve given up on fighting for that. But I doubt you want police knocking on your door and asking you how and why you’re trying to fight crime across the city.”

Matt rolls his eyes and is about to retort, but Leo trots over to him, standing by his legs quietly. “Yes, Leo?”

“Gimme your face,” Leo says.

Leo,” David groans. “Manners, baby.”

“Gimme your face, please,” Leo says.

Matt smiles faintly and leans forward so his face is closer to hers. She fumbles with something, and then there’s the press of cotton against his face, wrapping around his head several times.

She steps away from him and claps her hands delightedly. “Now you can fight in secret!” she declares triumphantly.

He lifts a hand to the fabric, feeling the edges of what seems like a scarf, as it winds around his head. “Huh,” he says. It doesn’t cover his nose or mouth so he’s able to breathe properly, only really covering the top half of his face. He can feel little tuffs of his hair sticking out between the gaps, but other than that it’s entirely covered.

“The bad guys won’t know that your eyes don’t work, so they’ll think you’re a ninja,” Leo continues. “In- intim- intem-” She huffs. “Mommy, what’s the word?”

“Intimidation, sweetie,” Sarah supplies. “You were very close.”

Leo nods. “Right. Mister Matt, you’ll i-word the criminals, and they’ll be too scared to fight you! And they won’t know it’s you! Win-win!”

David makes a contemplative noise. “You know, she has a point.”

“You’re just saying that because she’s your kid,” Frank says. “You look kind of lame, but it gets the job done.”

Matt’s still recovering from being called ‘Mister Matt’, and can only nod.

Sarah’s phone buzzes and she curses. “Damn it, it’s morning already. David, we should get going.” She waves to all of them, giving Matt a gentle pat on the shoulder. “Thank you again, seriously. If you ever need anything, feel free to ask us. I’ll see you on Thursday, Frank!”

The three of them are out the door relatively quickly, Sarah muttering under her breath about sleep schedules and baby sitters while Micro groans in agreement.

“Well,” Foggy says. “That was interesting.”

Frank leans against his counter with a sigh. “Yeah, that’s one word for it.”

Meanwhile, Matt just traces the fabric over his eyes thoughtfully and hums. Maybe there was some wisdom to be taken from what Leo had said after all.

Chapter Text

He’s trying to get a head start on his English paper during lunch when someone pulls out the chair across from him and sits down.

He cocks his head to the side, regarding whoever decided to approach him- Foggy and Karen both had a big physics test they were studying for in their classroom, and Frank had lunch detention from talking back to a teacher.

There’s the sound of long hair being swept over a shoulder, and he tenses.

“Hello, Matthew,” Elektra greets him calmly. “Let’s have a little chat.”

He carefully sets his things off to the side. “Elektra,” he returns. “What are you doing here?”

She hums. “Stick wanted me to touch base with you. Figured you’d pick up on a few things going on in the city by now, or something. And I already have dinner plans, so meeting you during lunch was the only other option.”

“You could’ve just left me alone,” Matt says, and she laughs.

“Oh, Matthew. When will you learn? You’re not getting out of this. Even if Stick tries to make it seem like you’d help us willingly, you’re as caught up in all of it as the rest of us. There’s no out for either of us, darling.” She’s not just talking about the ‘war’.

He forces his body to relax, and he regards her cooly. “Sure. And I’m supposed to just share whatever information I supposedly have with you without getting anything in return?”

“What would you like? Me to play twenty questions with you and your boyfriend again?” She scoffs. “Unless you can come up with an actual request, don’t even bother.”

Matt takes a moment to think. While he had initially wanted to bargain for an explanation, it does seem somewhat foolish to be trying to get answers for questions he doesn’t even know enough to ask. “How about a favor?”

Elektra groans. “Dear God, Matthew, how are you so terrible at coming up with things?”

“A favor,” Matt repeats, voice firm. “I’ll tell you what I know, but you owe me a favor. Deal?”

There’s a brief pause, but she agrees. “Fine. I accept your childish terms.”

He grins. “Good. There’s some sort of group, Japanese, that are working to finish gathering some sort of item. There’s a group of Russians that help to supply them with some of it, but they all know Stick’s back and are trying to keep things off his radar. It seemed like the leader of the Japanese group was familiar with Stick, but the Russians had only heard of him.”

Elektra is silent as she takes the information in. “Russians, you said? Did you get any information about any members or where they gather?”

Matt’s about to tell her about ‘Victor’ and his brother or the places he overhead conversations taking place but stops himself. He’s already given her a fairly substantial amount of information, and he doesn’t like the idea of sharing everything he knows with Stick. “No, that’s it.”

He doubts she believes him, but it doesn’t really matter if she does or not - if he refuses to tell her, there’s not much she can do about it.

“Fine,” she says eventually. “Well, I’ll see you around, Matthew. Try and act a little more your age, will you?”

Stick stole my childhood from me so of course I still seem a little underdeveloped, especially in social contexts, he wants to say, but he bites his tongue and forces a smile. “Have fun with Stick,” he says instead.

She huffs and stands up from the table. “Goodbye, Matthew.” She’s gone before he can say anything else, striding through the doors of the library and out of the school with long, even steps.

He sighs, slumping down in his chair as he tries to figure out what the hell just happened.

*

“I’m sorry, who did what?”

Matt shoots Micro a dirty look and Frank scrubs a hand over his face.

“David, just- shut up. Please.” Frank groans. “If you’re going to insist on being here, then please just shut the hell up.”

Matt nods in agreement. “Please,” he repeats.

David huffs. “Fine, but I’m still going to be listening.”

“Just quit talking and it’s fine,” Frank says. “Sorry, Red, you were saying?”

“Elektra came to me during lunch and told me to give her whatever information I had gotten so far.”

“Did you?” Frank asks.

Matt shrugs. “Some of it, yeah. But there’s no way in hell I’m helping Stick as much as I can.”

“The blind old guy?” Micro cuts in. “Stick’s in on this, too?”

“Don’t you have a job or something?” Frank asks him. “Why are you hanging out with a couple of high schoolers anyway?”

Micro shrugs. “I work from home,” he says like that explains everything. “And I’m only a couple of years older than you guys.”

“You literally hang around the school so much that people still think you’re a senior,” Matt says dryly.

“It’s free wi-fi!” Micro defends. “And okay, fine, I’ll shut up.”

“Finally,” Frank mutters under his breath. “Did she say anything about when she’d pop by next?”

Matt shakes his head. “No, but it’ll probably be during the evening next time. She only came during school because-” he cuts himself off. “Fuck. I’ve gotta go - Frank, if you want to come with me you can, just try not to slow me down.”

“Woah woah woah, what?” Frank stands as soon as Matt does, holding onto one of his arms and effectively keeping him from running out of the room like he had been about to do. “What’s going on?”

“Elektra said she had ‘dinner plans’,” he explains quickly. “My bet is that she’s either involved with or investigating something tonight, and I intend to find out exactly what it is.” He tugs his arm free and slides on his jacket. “You coming or what?”

Frank sighs. “I’m coming. How are you planning on finding where she is?”

Matt grins, tapping a single finger against his nose, then his ear. “I’ve got these senses for a reason, you know.”

*

Tracking Elektra down is far more difficult than he had thought it would be, but they end up getting lucky by accidentally stumbling upon her scent after wandering around after a little under a half an hour.

Matt follows it, leading them to an old, abandoned part of the city - because where else could it be? - by the docks, where he can hear some quiet conversations taking place.

He gestures for Frank to sit as he leans forward slightly and listens in.

“A couple dozen people making rounds. Steady heartbeats, so this isn’t the first time they’ve done this. And whatever material they’re gathering, some of it should be arriving any minute now,” he translates for Frank. “They’re talking about some sort of weapon that’s going to arrive with it, and-” He frowns. “They’re building weapons? Whatever the material is, it can be used to make the weapon.”

“They talking guns? Bombs?” Frank whispers. “What kind of weapons?”

Matt shakes his head. “No clue. Whatever it is, it’s really powerful.” He barely suppresses a shudder as he hears each praise for the weapon, commending it for its capability of bringing destruction and terror. “It seems like it’s been used before, so at least it’s not some sort of new experimental device.”

Frank hums. “Huh.” His heart jumps in his chest, but he talks before Matt can say anything. “I see her. Other side of the docks, moving along the top of the containers.”

Matt nods, focusing his senses to monitor Elektra as she moves silently, graceful and swift in each step and leap. He listens as Elektra creeps through the area, quietly slipping into a shipping container, leaving the door only the slightest bit ajar.

He can make out heartbeats coming from inside, and soon after the almost overwhelming smell of gasoline fills the air, and he gags. Elektra steps out of the container and briefly to do a quick sweep of the surrounding area, and Matt prays that the gasoline had been there before, or that she had merely opened a container that was in there, but there’s a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he can’t ignore.

She heads back to the container, drawing a sword with a length best suited for fighting in close quarters, and steps inside. Almost instantly, all of the heartbeats skyrocket, and he can barely make out Elektra’s soft chuckles.

“Don’t worry. I’m not here for you, and unless something goes wrong you all should get out of this just fine,” she murmurs. She flips her swords almost lazily, the sound of it cutting through the air the same as when Stick had done it, and the resemblance sends shivers down Matt’s spine.

She steps farther into the container, steadily approaching the very end. It’s difficult to pinpoint the location of all of the heartbeats, but it seems like they’re separating, making room for her as she moves. She stops before she reaches the end of the container, in front of a rapid heartbeat. Everyone in the container - every heartbeat besides Elektra’s - is fast, even without the fear. They’re young, not even at puberty yet, and the realization makes his heart freeze within his chest.

By some stroke of absolutely shitty luck, one of the people on guard wander past the container and spot its open door. He shouts for backup, and soon enough more and more people are swarming in onto the location, weapons raised and ready.

Elektra curses almost silently, flipping through the air as she cuts through one of the men with a long, broad stroke of her sword. She thrusts her sword into another person’s chest, then spins out of the way as a dagger is thrown through the air she had just stood in.

She pulls a lighter from somewhere in her sash, lighting it up and tossing it into the shipping container several feet away from her, then throws something from the ground to slam the door shut. Immediately, the gasoline inside ignites, and the entire container is filled with vicious flames.

The heartbeats - young, too young - are fast, terrified, and he can barely make out muffled cries from behind what must be gags and duct tape, and he’s diving forward to do something, anything.

Frank stops him with a tackle, pinning him to the ground before he can make it off the roof. “You can’t go out there!” he hisses.

“There are kids,” Matt gasps, “kids. I have to- I have to help them, Frank, please-”

He can pinpoint the exact moment Frank understands what’s going on, his heart skyrocketing as he stares at the flaming shipping container. But he doesn’t let go of Matt, only holds him even tighter. “You won’t be able to get to them. There are too many of those guys, and you can’t save the kids and protect yourself.”

“I don’t have to protect myself! I have to save them!” Matt makes another attempt to break free, but can only struggle against Frank’s weight. “Frank, let me go!”

Frank swallows hard, taking a sharp inhale. “I’m going to let you go,” he says quickly, words rushing out of him, “and I’m going to watch your back. But I’m not going to be gentle about it, and if you agree then you can’t blame me for what I do.”

Matt nods furiously, barely registering the words. “Yes, fine, okay, now get off.”

As commanded, Frank lifts himself off of Matt and lets him jump down from their perch onto the docks, sprinting toward the shipping container. The number of adult heartbeats seems to decrease, but he can’t be bothered to pay it much mind as he dives into the container, ignoring the way the flames lick at his skin in favor of half-carrying, half-dragging the kids outside.

Thankfully it hasn’t been too long, and most of the kids are able to run out of the container themselves, cowering together and trying to avoid the fighting going on.

There’s only one child left inside - the one with the fastest yet strongest heartbeat, and Matt doesn’t understand why they aren’t moving until he’s able to smell rust and metal, and he quickly tugs at the metal chains keeping the child in place. It refuses to budge, growing hotter and hotter under his hands, but he can’t let go, he can’t.

Instead, he pulls and pulls and pulls, gritting his teeth against the pain and unbudging metal, letting it cut into the soft flesh of his palms until he can finally feel it give in, the heat letting it warp just enough for the kid to pull his limbs free.

They stagger out together, both of them coughing out smoke and ash, Matt haphazardly patting at his clothes to remove any lingering flames.

“Matthew?” Elektra takes a step toward him and he staggers back, shielding the child with his body. “What are you-”

“Stay back,” he rasps out. “I’m not letting you hurt them.”

She pauses, undoubtedly taking in his singed clothes and soot-covered face, as well as the open door of the shipping container. “You got them out,” she says, voice void of any emotion.

“Why are you doing this? Hurting innocent children?”

“They’re not innocent,” she says, but her voice is far too flat, repeating the words for the sake of it rather than from actual belief. “I was doing what I was supposed to do.”

He shakes his head, then winces when it makes the world wobble out of focus around him. “That’s bullshit, and you know it. You-” a series of coughs takes control of his lungs, and he staggers.

The ground slips from beneath his feet and he tips sideways, but he lands against something solid and warm instead of the hard ground.

“Easy, Red,” Frank murmurs. He uses a gentle hand to push some of the hair away from his face. He smells like gunpowder and blood, a combination that reveals far too much and far too little. But underneath it all is still Frank, and Matt allows himself to take comfort in it for just a few short moments before forcing himself back upright.

“I’ve gotta-” He gestures vaguely toward the group of kids behind him. “I have to-” His head throbs and it’s nearly impossible to think, and there’s a steadily growing feeling of nausea that demands his immediate attention.

Frank holds his shoulders to keep him steady. “Alright, Red, time to go. Elektra, try to not kill any kids.”

“Promise you won’t,” Matt rasps. He lifts his head up to face her, satisfied when her heart stutters slightly. “Swear it.”

“Calling in your favor so soon?” she tries to joke, but her voice is too shaky for it to work. “I promise.” Her heart beats steady, and Matt nods in satisfaction.

“Alright. Let’s go, then.” Frank throws one of Matt’s arms around his shoulders and puts an arm around Matt’s waist, carefully leading them away from the docks and the flames (and the dozens of bodies, cold and lifeless and how did they die? Who killed them?).

Matt can only gather enough focus and strength to take one step at a time until they finally reach Frank’s apartment. He lets himself fall onto the couch and immediately slips into unconsciousness, barely registering the noise around him as he wonders why his life is so fucking difficult.

Chapter Text

He wakes up to cough up what feels like half a lung, and Frank is by his side immediately to hand him a glass of water.

“Thanks,” he rasps out. He takes a few long gulps of the water, then feels for the table to set it down. “How long was I out?”

“A little under half an hour,” Frank replies. He taps on something - his phone, Matt thinks, but his senses aren’t quite back to normal so it’s difficult to tell for sure - before speaking again. “Do you have difficulty breathing, a hoarse voice, or mental confusion?” he asks.

Matt clears his throat, bringing a hand against it at the soreness. He drinks a bit more water, then shakes his head. “Throat’s fine, and breathing is normal. There’s no need for a hospital,” he tells him. His voice doesn’t quite sound exactly like it normally does, but it also doesn’t seem so bad that he needs immediate medical attention. He pauses. “Are you- are you looking up what to do on your phone?”

“Smoke inhalation is a serious health concern!” Frank defends. “And how’d you know that, anyway? You hear the buzzing of my phone or something?”

Matt shakes his head with a smile. “Electronics do tend to make a slight sound. But no- when your fingers press against the screen, it makes a specific sort of noise. Not many other things are made of the same material as phone screens, after all, and the rhythm and speed of your tapping are pretty much limited to when you’re typing on your phone.”

“Damn, so that’s what you meant when you said his senses were super sensitive,” Micro says. He apologizes when Matt startles, having not realized he was there yet. “You couldn’t, uh, smell me?”

Matt shakes his head. “You were here earlier so I figured you had left. Besides, you were being quiet and I just woke up after a bit of a stressful evening, so my senses aren’t quite functioning like they normally do.”

Micro nods. “Yeah, Frank told me about what happened while you were getting some sleep.”

“Hope you don’t mind,” Frank tells him earnestly. “I didn’t-”

“It’s fine, Frank,” Matt says. Frank seems unconvinced, so he lays a hand against his arm, twitching slightly when he remembers his injuries. “I don’t mind.”

“You got some serious guts,” Micro tells him. “And also some major burns on your hands. You sure you don’t want to go to a hospital?”

Matt shakes his head. “No, no hospital. No one can know what happened, or what I did.” He lays his hands, palms facing up, on his knees, taking deep breaths so he can focus and determine the full extent of the damage. “If I meditate it shouldn’t take too long to heal, but it may leave a couple of nasty looking scars.” He smirks. “Good thing I don’t put too much weight into appearances.”

“Completely ignoring that ridiculous joke- fancy healing meditation or not, you’re still bleeding,” Frank points out from the kitchen. He comes back with a damp cloth, the softest one he has (and the one Matt reaches for most often - had Frank noticed that?), and presses it against the cuts. Matt can’t help but wince at the initial contact, and Frank murmurs an apology.

“Well, you certainly did make a bit of a difference,” Micro tells him. “You’re practically all the news is talking about. They don’t know you’re involved, of course, but the whole city’s flipping out because a bunch of kids that had been missing showed up out of nowhere in the middle of the night.”

Frank nods, inspecting the wounds before pulling out some ointment, gauze, and bandages. He applies them carefully, calloused hands painstakingly gentle. “You helped a lot of people tonight,” he says. “Made a lot of families really happy.”

“It’s why I do it,” Matt says. “To help people, to save them.”

Frank grins, nudging his shoulder with his own. “Leo was right when she called you a hero,” he says.

Matt flushes, but he’s too giddy from the night’s success to bother denying it. Maybe he is a hero, after all.

*

“I’m sorry, can you say that again? Because I could’ve sworn I hear you say that you went into a burning crate to rip the chains off a bunch of trafficked kids.

Matt winces. “Well, only one of them was actually chained to the container.”

Foggy throws his hands up in exasperation. “Jesus, Matt,” he says. “What happened to you not making too many dumb, self-sacrificial decisions?”

“Technically I only made one ‘dumb, self-sacrificial decision’.” Matt shrugs. He tries to aim for nonchalance but isn't quite sure that he succeeds. He told Foggy because he was happy and proud, and he had hoped that Foggy would be too. He doesn't exactly feel like getting his good mood ruined, even if everything that Foggy was saying wasn’t entirely false.

Foggy sighs. He runs a hand through his hair as he takes in a shaky breath, then lets it out slowly. “Okay,” he says, sounding far calmer than just a few moments before. “Let me re-do my reaction. Matt, I’m really scared that you’re going to get hurt and maybe even killed out there. I’m terrified that I’m going to lose my best friend, again, and I don’t know if I’d be able to handle it. You’re a great guy, and the world is better with you in it.” He takes another deep breath. “That being said, you did a really good thing, and I’m seriously impressed.”

Matt perks up immediately. “Really?”

“Really. You saved a lot of kids, and while I don’t like that you got hurt doing it, there’s no denying it. You may have put yourself at risk, but a lot of kids are able to go back to their families, and that’s because of you, Matt.” Foggy chuckles softly. “You’re a hell of a great guy, Murdock, and I’m proud to call you my friend.”

And well, that’s just about exactly what Matt needed to hear. “Can I-” he stops himself, fingers fidgeting even despite his best efforts to keep them still. “Can I hug you?”

Foggy nods with so much zeal that Matt worries for his neck and spine. “Of course, buddy! Get on over here and get a good ol’ Nelson hug!” He extends his arms outward and Matt moves forward quickly, practically burrowing into his friend’s chest. He hugs Matt just the way he’s always liked it: firm and earnest and a reminder that he’s here and that he isn’t going anywhere.

With his senses the way they are, the physical contact feels more meaningful, more intense somehow, and it fills him with a sense of comfort and love that he hasn’t felt in years. He lets himself enjoy it for a few more moments, carefully counting out the seconds until two minutes have passed, before pulling away.

But Foggy takes one look at him and tugs him back in. “Oh, no you don’t. Now that you’ve initiated the hug, you gotta see it through to the end. You need at least eight more minutes of hugging before you can go off and make more bad decisions, you hear me?”

Matt laughs, feeling weightless and happy and everything he thought he’d never deserve to feel since Stick, and squeezes Foggy back. “Loud and clear, Foggy. I hear you.”

*

Elektra comes into step with him as he’s making the journey from Foggy’s home and his apartment, a forced lightness in her stride that has Matt tensing and preparing for the worst. There are only so many reasons she would be approaching him after all, and he doubts that she’d be trying so hard to seem cool and collected if she had come to share anything other than bad news.

They walk in silence, tension building until she finally speaks. “One of the kids is dead,” she tells him, not bothering to ease the blow of her words. “The one that was in chains. He’s dead.”

Matt’s grip on his cane tightens, but he continues to move forward, mind racing as he tries to process the information. “How did he die?”

Elektra does pause this time. “An arrow through the heart,” she says. “Killed a few hours after you had left.”

He nods stiffly and clenches his jaw. An indescribable sort of frustration - a pain that he couldn’t even begin to describe - squeezes around his heart and threatens to swallow him whole, from the inside out. “Okay,” he manages to say. “Thank you for telling me.”

Her heartbeat stutters, and she freezes for a moment before quickly catching up with him again. “Aren’t you going to ask if I did it? If I was the one who killed him?”

And yes, the thought had occurred to him, but Elektra had promised, and while she seems to follow all of Stick’s orders, she’s far from a mindless slave. She knew it wasn’t right to kill the boy, and Matt fully believes that she wouldn’t harm a single hair on his head. “You said you wouldn’t,” he says. “I’m trusting that.”

“You’d really just take my word about that?” she asks incredulously. “Even after I had tried to kill all those kids in the first place?”

“Honestly, I don’t know why you tried to do that at all,” Matt admits. “But you’re not someone who kills people for fun, so I have to assume you had a reason. And yes, I would just take your word for it. Even if it’s foolish, you were honest when you promised me, so I’ll put my faith in you. You haven’t lied to me so far.”

She scoffs, a weak patchwork of what was probably supposed to be mocking and condescending but only shows him that she’s still young, still trying to find her place in the world. Trying to be good. “I let it happen. Stick was the one who killed him, and I didn’t even try to stop him.”

Matt shakes his head. “I won’t blame you for that. I’m not exactly pleased with that, but you weren’t the one to kill him, and I doubt you were particularly happy when it happened, either. You didn’t break your promise to me, and that has to count for something.”

She’s silent, and Matt lets her mull over his words as they continue down the street. The sounds of the city, vibrant and colorful as always, wash over them as they both try to figure out what to do next.

They arrive at the door of Matt’s apartment building, and Matt tilts his head toward Elektra in goodbye. “This is me.” He pauses, fiddling with the handle of his cane as he searches for the right words to say. If she’s anything like he had been when he first started to seriously consider leaving Stick, Elektra is lost and confused, desperately trying to figure out what to believe in and stand for when everything seems to be falling apart. “Listen. You’re not perfect, and you may not be a superhero or anything like that, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be good. You have the option to correct your past mistakes and be better, and you’ll always have that choice. Even if you don’t take it one time, you can still take it another. It’s never too late to be good.”

She regards him quietly for a few moments before adjusting her jacket. “Thanks for the sermon, Matthew. Try to not get killed before I see you again, will you? With the way you’re going, it won’t be long before there’s a price on your head.” She pats his shoulder, then turns and leaves. Even if she had tried to seem unaffected and unimpressed by his words, the lightness to her steps now is genuine, and the aura around her as she makes her way through the city traffic is something Matt can only really describe as hope.

Chapter Text

The more Matt thinks about it, the more something seemed off about the boy chained to the shipping container. Even besides the obvious, startling strength of his heart, there was something else that Matt can’t quite place.

He takes some of his free time after school to try and figure it out, thinking through the events from that night on the dock. He winces as he remembers the first initial panic and pain that had burst through the air when Elektra threw the match and the terror which had seized his body so that he could think of nothing but his need to move.

He remembers finally convincing Frank to let him go and launching himself down onto the docks until he could let the kids out before he freezes.

Back then, he had been so focused on trying to save the children that he hadn’t really processed what Frank had been saying, and he hadn’t bothered to keep track of what he had been doing once he let Matt go.

But now, there’s nothing stopping him from understanding exactly what happened.

The number of heartbeats dropping steadily, too fast and spread out for it to have all been because of Elektra, the tang of gunpowder clinging to Frank’s fingers and clothes for the rest of the night.

He stands up quickly and rushes out his apartment, barely remembering to lock his door in his haste to find Frank and get answers to the countless questions flying around his mind.

*

He’s just outside Frank’s apartment building when he realizes the other might not even be home. He quickly scans the apartment, filtering through all the irrelevant noise before honing in on Frank’s familiar voice as he talks aloud, calm but with a subtle tension lying underneath it.

“There’s no way they can go a week without being caught by some camera somewhere,” Frank is saying. There’s the scuff of his boots against the hardwood of his floor- he’s pacing. Whatever he’s thinking, he doesn’t like it. “Just- tell me if anything changes.”

A tinny, muffled voice comes from the same room, and while the voice seems fairly familiar they don’t speak long enough for Matt to figure out who it belongs to.

“No, don’t-” Frank groans. “Christ, Lieberman, you’re a real piece of work. Yeah, no, I got it. Just keep your name and face out of it, alright? Hopefully, they’ll leave you alone, but-”

Matt makes his way through the building slowly, keeping his senses tuned in to Frank’s apartment.

“I know. I’ll handle it, alright? No, quit that. I’ve got it under control, seriously.” Frank sounds more fed up with ‘Lieberman’ the more they talk. Look, just keep an eye out, but don’t do anything to bring attention to you or Sarah. I gotta go, okay?” He doesn’t bother waiting for a response, hanging up and tossing his phone onto the counter the moment he stops talking.

He makes his way over to the fridge, grabbing something and popping it open - a can of soda, from the sounds of it - and settles down onto his couch. He grabs a book off of the nearby table and flips it open, fingers quickly flipping the pages until he finds his spot.

Matt stands outside his door as he listens in, curious as to what exactly Frank had been discussing, and who he had been discussing it with. Frank seemed to have been trying to avoid lying to Matt since he found out about Stick, but Matt still had his doubts as to whether Frank was always entirely truthful with him. This just seemed to prove him right, and Matt can only hope that whatever Frank hadn’t bothered to tell him about, it wasn’t anything incredibly important.

He waits a couple more minutes as he gathers all his courage for what he’s about to ask Frank, then knocks on the door.

Frank stills on his couch, nearly silently creeping toward his kitchen and inching open a drawer to grab who knows what, and Matt clears his throat.

“It’s me,” he says, voice just loud enough to be heard through the door, but hopefully not for any noise neighbors to hear. “It’s Matt.”

Frank slips the drawer shut and steps to the door, opening it quickly and gently pulling him inside. “What’re you doing here? We didn’t have plans.”

Matt shakes his head, letting himself be led to the couch as Frank shoves the book he had been reading off to the side. “I, uh, was thinking and I wanted to ask you some things.”

Frank’s heartbeat stutters just the slightest bit, but he’s otherwise calm and unaffected. “Uh, okay. What kind of things?”

Matt takes a deep breath. It’s now or never. “That night on the docks,” Matt says quietly. “With the kids.”

Frank’s heart starts to beat faster, and his hands freeze before they resume what they were doing. If Matt hadn’t already had his suspicions, he definitely would now. “What about it?”

Matt tugs at a loose thread at the hem of his shirt. There’s not much use beating around the bush, but at the same time, he’s scared of whatever answer he might get. He already has a few ideas of what it could be, and none of them are particularly comforting. “When you told me you were watching my back, what exactly did you do?”

Frank swallows roughly. “Red, listen, I told you-”

“Just tell me what you did,” Matt pleads, voice quiet. “Please, Frank.”

Frank is silent for several long moments. “I’m not a good person, Red. Let me start by saying that.” He takes a deep, steadying breath before continuing. “I killed them. Anyone who seemed like they were going to go after you, I shot them and didn’t think twice about it.”

That’s… Huh.

“Oh,” Matt says blankly. He had been expecting something similar, but he was ill-prepared to actually hear the words spill from Frank’s lips, a straightforward confession of murder.

Frank sighs. “I’m pretty sure you’re not a big fan of killing people, even if it is to protect someone else, so I understand if you don’t want to- if you don’t want me around anymore.” Another sigh, this one sounding far more defeated and heartbroken than an exhale of air has any right to be. Matt’s heart aches at the sound.

Matt wants to say ‘You’re right, so please don’t come near me from now on’, but he also wants to say ‘You can be better, and I want you by my side’. Is it wrong for him to still care for Frank, to still want to be with him, even after learning what he did?

Part of him is shocked and betrayed, sure, but another part is desperate to keep Frank by his side, no matter what atrocities he could do.

What does it say about him, that he still loves Frank?

Wait.

He loves Frank? When did that happen?

“Um,” Matt says. He shoves himself to his feet and only sways the slightest bit. “I think I- I need some fresh air.”

Frank stands up hesitatingly but doesn’t follow him as he stumbles through the stairwell and makes his way up to the roof, mind filled with static as he tries to figure out what the hell is going on.

He lets himself sink to the ground, propping himself against a chimney for support as he tries to get his bearings. He had felt confused when contemplating if he should leave Stick, but it’s nothing compared to how he feels now, drowning in questions and doubt, and he can’t tell if he’s swimming to the surface or to the bottom.

He lifts his knees to his chest and cradles his head, forcing himself to take shaky breaths in and out, anything to keep him from spiraling any more than he already has.

*

There’s a hand against his cheek, and he leans into it automatically, eyes fluttering as he wakes up - when had he fallen asleep?

Almost immediately, the hand withdraws, and then there’s the sound of something cutting through the air and a hard smack against the side of his face.

He tilts to the side before scrambling to his feet, backing away from whoever had hit him. Sandalwood and incense flood his nose, and he stumbles, wild-eyed and breathless, to put as much distance between them as possible.

“Should’ve figured you’d end up so soft,” Stick spits. “Acting like a dumb puppy or some shit. It’s pathetic.”

“What do you want?” Matt asks. He hates how weak his voice sounds, hates the way he shakes and hurts at a single blow and a few words.

“Good to see you too, Matty,” Stick drawls. “You’re not looking too hot, kid.”

“What do you want?” Matt repeats. He doesn’t drop into a fighting stance but it’s a close thing, ready to react to whatever Stick may do next. The stinging in his cheek has faded to a dull ache, but it’s still strong enough for him to feel it even when he isn’t actively focusing on it. The old man always did hit hard, after all.

“Ellie asked you for some information the other day.” Stick takes one step closer, then another. Matt stumbles back a couple of steps, but Stick just continues to approach him. “You were holding back some information, and you’re gonna share it with me.”

Matt shakes his head furiously. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Stick scoffs, and Matt nearly trips with how violently he starts shaking at the noise. He doesn’t know why he’s so affected by just a few things his former teacher does, but there’s no denying that he’s terrified out of his mind with no idea of where to go or what to do. “Try that again.”

Matt makes to run away, but Stick grabs the back of his collar and throws him onto the ground. He struggles, flailing against the weight pressed against his back, but he never manages to get enough force or leverage to free himself. “Let go of me!” he shouts.

Stick laughs, dry and unimpressed, a mocking taunt in response to Matt’s pleas which makes a reoccurring appearance in many of his nightmares. He digs a knee into the small of Matt’s back, and Matt winces as it moves along one of his more sensitive scars. He regrets his reaction as soon as it happens- Stick notices it (of course he does, when does Stick ever do anything that benefits Matt) and pushes harder until Matt is practically writhing on the ground in an attempt to escape the pain overwhelming his senses.

“Get! Off!” Matt grits out.

“You’re weak,” Stick says. “I figured you’d end up soft, but this is embarrassing even for you.” He shoves a hand against another scar - one of the last ones Stick had given him - and laughs when Matt thrashes even harder against his hold. “Not so mouthy without your stupid friends, are you?”

Matt shakes his head, eventually laying still and doing his best to manage the pain despite how much his body protests, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his hands into fists.

After a few moments, Stick releases some of the pressure. But the moment Matt relaxes, he presses even harder than before. “Alright, Matty, let’s try it again. What didn’t you tell Ellie?”

“Nothing,” he forces out. “There isn’t anything else.”

Stick sighs. “Well, at least you’re still the same determined son of a bitch as you always were. But this isn’t some torture you’re supposed to endure until your weak-ass classmates come and ‘save’ you. You deserve all the pain you’re feeling right now, and no one’s coming for you. We’re on the same side, Matty, when will that get through your thick skull? Keeping shit from me is only going to bite you in the ass later.”

“Not before it pisses you off, though,” Matt says with an angry smile.

Stick huffs. “You wanna act like a brat, fine. But-”

There’s a heavy clang, the sound of metal (aluminum? Titanium? Matt’s head is fuzzy from being slammed against the ground, and he can’t quite place it) against something else, and then the pressure against his back is suddenly gone.

“Fuck off, Branchpa,” Foggy hisses.

A warm hand cups his face as another helps to ease him into a sitting position, and Matt blinks dazedly. He wants to lean into the warmth, but Stick was right - he was acting like a fool, soft and pliant when he shouldn’t be (when he couldn’t be).

“‘Branchpa’?” he says instead.

Foggy hums. “Yeah. Branch and grandpa, because he looks like he’s at least ninety years old. He’s all wrinkly and shit.” He makes a startled noise. “Fuck! Branchpa is still awake! Frank, do something!”

The warmth slips away from his face, and there’s the sound of boots against the rough material of the roof before there’s a loud smack and a body slumps to the ground.

Matt’s head feels like cotton and his mouth doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with him, but he does his best to talk clearly anyways. “Frank? Frank’s here?”

A familiar presence settles in front of him, too far away to touch, leaving what Frank must figure to be an appropriate distance considering their conversation earlier. “I’m here, Red. I can- I can go if you want.”

Matt shakes his head, then winces when it makes his head throb. He reaches a hand out and Frank meets him halfway, moving forward so their hands meet. Matt follows Frank’s hand up along his arm and to his shoulder, fingers trailing a path up to Frank’s face. He cups Frank’s cheek in his hand the same way Frank had done to him earlier, letting the warmth seep into his palm. “Thank you,” he whispers. He tilts his head to where he thinks Foggy is standing (the panic and pain really did a number on his senses). “Thank you,” he says again, at a normal volume this time.

“Frank’s the one who got me,” Foggy tells him. “Said you might need someone to talk to, and he hadn’t seen you in a bit so he was getting worried.”

Matt turns his head back to Frank, who shuffles nervously but otherwise remains still under his hand.

“I worry,” Frank explains with a shrug.

Matt nods, finally letting his hand drop back down to his lap. “I know. We should, uh. We should probably talk.”

Frank winces. “Right now?”

“Maybe at my place? Considering how Stick’s kind of-” he gestures toward the unconscious body. “You know.”

“Right,” Frank says. “I’ll drop him off a few blocks away, then head to your apartment?”

Matt nods. “Foggy, you’re free to drop by in a couple of hours, but I think there are a few things just the two of us need to talk about.”

Foggy shrugs. “Yeah, that’s chill. I need to scream into a pillow about how I just hit someone over the head with my baseball bat, so it works out.”

“Okay.” Matt takes a deep breath as he pushes himself to his feet. It frustrates him to think that Stick was right - that he was weak and helpless without his friends, but there was no point in whining about it. “I’ll, uh, see you two in a bit, then.” He shakes out his limbs to get the blood flowing through them again, then heads back to the stairwell. He pauses once he reaches the door, then turns around to face his friends. “Thanks. Really.”

Foggy waves him off. “It’s no problem, buddy. Now get home safe, okay?”

He nods, giving them a short wave before slipping past the door and down the stairs, letting his mind run wild as he tries to figure out what exactly he wants to say to Frank.

*

“You took a shower?” Frank asks him when he steps into his apartment.

Matt nods. “Would you, uh- could you as well?” He plays with his fingers, ducking his head sheepishly. “Sorry, it’s just- the smell-”

“Don’t have to explain it, Murdock,” Frank tells him. “Mind if I use your stuff?”

“Oh, that’s-” Really really good, Matt’s mind supplies. He mentally curses and tries to get his act together. He still has to discuss the whole ‘hey, I’m not cool with murder and I’ll let your mini murder-protection-spree go if you don’t do it again’ thing with Frank, so he needs to keep his feelings in check in the meantime. “That’s fine,” he manages. “I’ll put some clothes out for you.”

*

“So, uh, you wanted to talk?” Frank settles down into the chair across from him, almost completely devoid of any traces of incense clinging to his skin.

Matt nods, pulling at the edge of his shirt. “Yeah, I did some thinking, and, uh.” He rubs the back of his neck. “Well, you were right when you guessed that I wasn’t really a fan of killing people, even if it is for okay reasons.”

Frank makes a small noise of agreement, tensing like he’s preparing himself for the worst.

“But,” Matt continues, “It’d be kind of fucked-up if I hoped Stick would be my, uh, parental figure, I guess, after he killed countless people without any remorse, but asked you to leave when you were doing it to protect me. And I don’t- I can’t condone killing. Even if they’re criminals, or they’re hurting people, it’s not something I can allow.” He takes a deep breath. “So I guess that’s where I’m at. What- what do you think?”

“I’ll be honest, I was kind of expecting a rejection of sorts,” Frank says. “And as much as I want to, I can’t promise I won’t kill anyone, intentionally or otherwise, if I think they’re going to hurt you, or anyone else I care about. I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s what I’m willing to do if it comes down to it, and I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.”

Matt sighs, a wry smile twisting his lips. “Yeah, I figured.”

“Is that-” Frank licks his lips nervously. “Is that okay?”

“About as good as I figured it’d get,” Matt says. “So, yes, it’s okay.”

Frank lets out a sigh of relief, slumping down in his chair as he does so. “You’re too good to me, Red,” he murmurs.

“Just- try to be better,” Matt says. “If not for yourself, then for me.”

Frank doesn’t respond for a few seconds, instead moving so that he’s sitting properly in the chair again. “For you, Red,” he says eventually. “I’ll try.”

Matt smiles, placing a hand on Frank’s shoulder and chuckling when Frank’s heart jumps in surprise. “That’s all I ask.”

Chapter Text

When Foggy knocks on the door, the smell of fresh takeout wafts through the air and has Matt’s mouth watering almost instantly.

“You’re the greatest, Fogs,” he says without preamble as soon as he opens the door.

Foggy laughs brightly, laying out the food on the counter with steady and quick hands. “Well, I wonder how to win your heart, Murdock,” he jokes. He lowers his voice and scoots closer before he asks, “Everything went okay with Frank?”

The similarities between Foggy asking how his conversation with Frank went and Frank asking him how his interaction with Foggy went isn’t lost on him, and he smiles almost absentmindedly as he compares the two. “Well enough, I suppose. Not everything is resolved, but we’ve got time to figure it out.”

Foggy bumps his shoulder with his own. “Look at you, acting all optimistic! Keep it up and you might lose your broody reputation.”

“I don’t brood,” Matt says. Frank scoffs from where he sits off to the side, and he whirls to face him. “I don’t!”

“Red, the first time I met you, you were the picture definition of ‘brooding’,” Frank tells him fondly. “Now quit pouting and eat some food.”

“I’m not pouting either,” Matt mumbles under his breath, but he still turns back to face the counter.

“Quit flirting in front of me.” Foggy tells them, voice playful and teasing in a way that he’s only started using around Matt recently. It’s nice, thinking about how Foggy is slowly getting more comfortable and familiar with Matt, even after everything that had happened. “You two okay if we just lay everything out and share?” Foggy asks.

Frank takes a seat at the counter across from Matt, and he helps Foggy to open up all the containers. “I’m cool with it.”

Matt nods his agreement and it isn’t long before they’re all digging in, enjoying the food and company in equal measure.

Matt’s just about to put an admittedly large bite of sesame chicken into his mouth when he pauses. “Hey, Frank. Back- however long ago, you knew the guy I was talking to was Russian. I never told you that.”

Frank shifts in his seat. “Uh, I called in a favor from David and had him look the guy up while you two were talking.”

Foggy chews as quietly as he can from where he sits next to Matt.

“Huh,” Matt says. “Hold on a second, what’s Micro’s last name?”

“Lieberman, why?”

Matt takes a sip of his water, then shrugs, faux casual as he leans across the counter. “Do you want to say what you’ve been up to in front of Foggy or just me?”

Frank swallows roughly, taking a long gulp of his own drink before he clears his throat. “Uh.” He rubs the top of his head nervously. “What would make you go easier on me?”

“Neither,” Matt says brightly. “Decide fast.”

“Do it now,” Foggy pipes in, “I wanna hear this shit.”

Frank makes a noise in the back of his throat and most likely gives Foggy an incredulous look. “Right, uh.”

Matt decides to help him get started. “That night I saved Sarah and Leo, she wouldn’t tell me why they came after her. Did you know about that?”

Frank hesitates. “I, uh, don’t know if I have the place to say.”

“But you did know about it,” Matt presses. “You know whatever it is that happened that made those people go after Sarah.”

“... Yes.”

“Will it happen again?”

Frank sighs, already seeing where the conversation is heading. “Tell you what: I’ll ask David and Sarah if I can tell you. If they say yes, I’ll spill, but if not, I’m only going to share the parts that don’t reveal their part of the story, which isn’t much. Deal?”

It only takes Matt a second to weigh his options. “Deal.”

Frank shakes his head - in exasperation or something else, Matt can’t tell. “Alright. I’ll text him now, then. Any other burning questions you got for me?”

Well, now that he mentioned it…

“At the docks,” Matt starts. He tugs at his sleeves to give his hands something to do. “How did you- how did you do what you did? It’s not exactly something you just pick up from video games or something.”

“You can say ‘murder’, Matt, it’s not a bad word,” Foggy says.

Matt regards him with a tilt to his head. “You- you know?”

Foggy shrugs, just too far on the side of nonchalant for Matt to believe he’s as neutral about it as he’s trying to seem. “Frank said enough for me to fill in the blanks.”

“And you’re okay with it?” Matt presses. He doesn’t think Foggy would try to report it to the police- even outside of Foggy’s own moral beliefs and justifications for such cruel acts, there’s nearly no way for him to gather any evidence proving it. But even still, there’s no way to know for sure how Foggy feels about it and what he plans to do with the information without asking him directly.

“Let me be clear,” Foggy says, voice turning firm and undoubtedly staring at Frank while he speaks, “in no way do I support killing people. Even if they’re shitty people, I don’t think murder is right. It’s not our job to take the law into our own hands and decide who gets what punishment, especially when death is one of the options.” He pauses. “However, when it’s done to protect someone - in this case, to protect Matt - then I guess I’m a little more lenient.”

“What do you mean by ‘lenient’?” Frank asks hesitatingly.

Foggy hums. “I won’t exactly pat you on the back for it, but I won’t criticize you for it, either. It’s all about your motive, I guess. I won’t be happy you’re killing a bunch of people, but I’d rather you do that and keep Matt alive than not.”

“Huh,” Matt says.

“Huh,” Frank agrees.

“Anyways!” Foggy claps his hands together and leans back in his chair. “Frank, back to you! How’d you get so good at killing people?”

Matt winces at the bluntness of the question, but Frank seems unfazed.

“I’ve been handling guns since I was pretty young, and I used to go on a bunch of hunting trips during the summer.” He coughs. “And I played a lot of paintball.” Matt snorts in what is probably the most unattractive way ever, but Frank laughs regardless.

Frank’s phone vibrates, and Matt perks up immediately.

“Is that Micro?” he asks.

“Relax a little, will you?” Frank asks, but his voice is filled with an undeniable fondness. “But yeah. He said I can talk as long as I don’t go into ‘too much overwhelming detail’.”

Matt shovels some more food into his mouth as he waits for Frank to continue. Foggy makes a disapproving noise and shoves a wad of napkins at him, which he uses to wipe at some of the sauce smeared around his lips.

Frank helps him to wipe at a particularly stubborn spot before he continues. “Long story short, after I had David look into that Russian guy, I started looking into him and his- friends, or whatever, and then David got involved, and then Sarah. We think they’re involved with some kind of human trafficking - kids, probably - and we guess they caught wind of David or Sarah sniffing around and tried to get them to stop.”

“Wow,” Matt says after a moment.

Foggy whistles in agreement before he cuts himself off abruptly. “Wait a sec. The Russians have been kidnapping a bunch of kids all over the city?”

“That’s what it seemed like,” Frank says.

“And the shady Japanese group was working with those same Russians,” Foggy continues, voice rising in intensity with each word he says. “So that means-”

“The material the Japanese leader said they needed - it was kids,” Matt finishes. He sits back in his chair and blinks. “Holy shit.”

“What the fuck do they need a bunch of kids for?” Frank asks. He sounds revolted and horrified, shock coloring his voice. Matt pushes a couple of egg rolls toward him as a comfort, which Frank scarfs down at the speed of light. Damn, he had an appetite.

Matt shakes his head. “No clue. But I bet it has something to do with one of the kids being handled differently than the others. Stick and Elektra probably know why, but I don’t know if Elektra’s going to be coming to ask me for information anytime soon.”

“What exactly did the leader guy say about the kids?” Foggy asks. “Back when you first heard him?”

It takes him a moment to recall the memory, but once he does the unsettling words are hard to get out of his head. “He said they only needed a little bit more, and that they already had enough for a couple of ‘uses’. No one’s onto them or what they’re doing, and it’s hard to tell how long they’ve been taking kids for.”

“Well that’s just a ton of great news,” Foggy says dryly.

“When you say ‘uses’,” Frank says slowly, “is there any other word it could’ve meant?”

Matt frowns. “Not that I know of, at least. Why?”

“If they’re going after kids specifically when they could be going after other people that might be easier to get a hold of - like homeless people, or anyone else that doesn’t exactly have someone watching over them nearly all hours of the day - then that means it’s something specific to kids that they need. So maybe they need something that only kids can do or whatever,” Frank says. “But if they were trying to get more ‘uses’ out of something…”

Matt swallows. “We need to find out what they’re taking from the kids.”

“How exactly do you plan on doing that? You can’t exactly just go up to a kid and ask them to play bait for these creeps.” Foggy shudders at the thought. “Your options are kind of limited, buddy.”

Matt cocks his head. “I couldn’t ask them to be bait, no,” he agrees. “But talking to a kid isn’t a bad idea.”

“The kids from the dock,” Frank realizes. “But there’s a chance none of them actually know anything.”

“True,” Matt says. “But on the off-chance one of them does, it’s worth a shot.”

“Considering how they all just showed up out of the blue after being missing for a while, I doubt it’s going to be easy to talk to them,” Foggy says.

Matt grins. He’s always liked a challenge, and this time is no exception. “I’m sure I’ll figure something out.”

Foggy sighs. “You don’t want to leave this to the police? Or literally anyone else who’s supposed to be looking into these things as their literal job?”

“You think that the police can handle this kind of shit?” Frank asks, his voice incredulous enough for them to all know what exactly Frank thinks about that.

“Well, better them than some teenagers still in high school!”

“I think we all know by now that I’m not exactly a typical high school student,” Matt says dryly. “And while I’d like to leave it to the police to deal with, there’s no way that they’re equipped to handle even half of what’s going on. I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought it could be solved that easily.”

Foggy scrubs a hand over his face in exasperation, but he nods after a few moments. “Okay,” he says. “I don’t like it, but I doubt there’s anything I could say to change your mind, either.”

“Thank you, Foggy,” Matt says.

“Don’t sweat it.” Foggy waves him off, then swears when his phone goes off. “Shit- it’s super late, so I’m going to get going and hopefully Mama Nelson’s wrath will be kept to a minimum.” He pokes Matt’s shoulder, then does the same to Frank. “You two better keep each other in check, okay? Please don’t get involved in any more weird shit until I see you again.”

“We’ll try our best,” Matt tells him.

Foggy just sighs and shakes his head. “You’re dealing with the trash!” he calls out before hightailing it out of the apartment and sprinting down the stairs.

Frank chuckles. “Nelson’s quite the friend.”

Matt grins, finishing off another serving of chicken before collecting all of the empty containers. “He certainly is.”

Frank finishes eating and they gather up all the trash quietly, shoving it into Matt’s trash can and heaving a collective sigh of relief when it manages to fit.

The atmosphere is slightly more contemplative, and Matt can’t help but dwell on how much of a rollercoaster the night had been, but how Frank and Foggy had helped it to end on a good note regardless.

Matt turns toward Frank, who makes a questioning noise as he finishes wiping down the counter - unprompted, mind you, yet another example of how wonderful Frank was, even in the smallest of ways.

“I’m glad you were honest with me,” Matt tells him sincerely. He wishes there was some way he could let Frank know just how grateful he is for his honesty and transparency, even if he hadn’t initially been the most forthcoming about it, but the only thing he can think of is grabbing Frank’s cheeks and kissing him senseless, which. Well.

Frank interrupts his thoughts with a low voice. “Sorry I didn’t tell you before you confronted me about it. I’m not holding any more secrets though, I swear, and I won’t hide anything from you anymore.”

“I know.” Matt nods and can’t quite stop himself from laying a hand on Frank’s cheek like he had done earlier, like Frank had done to him earlier as well, and just soaks in the contentment he feels at the small point of contact.

Frank leans into the touch, both of their hearts thundering in the otherwise silent apartment.

Eventually, Frank pulls away with a soft sigh. “It’s late.”

Matt tugs him back when he makes to move toward the door. “Stay?”

Frank is silent for a moment before he nods. “I’ll take the couch.”

Matt shoots Frank a withering stare. “We’re not having this conversation again,” he says flatly. “You’re not sleeping on a couch so long as there’s a perfectly functional bed.”

“Well, neither are you,” Frank says. “So I guess unless you have an objection to it, we’re both cramming into your bed.”

“Fine.”

Fine.”

Frank huffs. He mumbles something under his breath that Matt can’t quite make it as he heads to the bedroom, but he doesn’t get a chance to dwell on it before Frank’s calling for him to get in bed.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Matt says with a grin. He settles into bed and can’t help but continue to smile at how comfortable it is, sharing Frank’s warmth and just relaxing in the other’s presence. There’s a level of contentment and peace he gets from being near Frank that he hasn’t felt for the longest time, and he’s drifting off to sleep before he even realizes it.

“Sweet dreams, Red,” Frank murmurs. Something soft presses against his forehead, and then he’s asleep, dreaming of heroes and saved children, and an impossibly beautiful happy ever after.

Chapter Text

For the first time in- years , probably, Matt wakes up peacefully and well-rested.

He can feel the heat of the sun shining on bits of his arms and face, just strong enough for him to feel its lingering warmth on his skin even when he turns away.

Frank’s in the kitchen, drumming his fingers on the counter as he pours himself a cup of coffee. The bed is still warm from where Frank had been sleeping, so it was likely his first cup. Matt attempts to mumble out a greeting but fails, and he shifts so that he’s lying down in Frank’s spot.

It’s a different kind of warmth than the sun’s rays - something stronger yet softer, a comforting mix of things that would likely be overbearing if it was anyone else, but somehow works because it’s Frank.

Frank seems to be a lot of exceptions for Matt, which is- kind of a lot, honestly. Even as a kid, despite his father trying his best and Foggy always being there for him, opening up to people had always been hard. Having a mother who left before he could even take his first steps had hurt both him and his father, and expressing their feelings had never come easily to either of them.

And then the accident happened, and then his father was killed. And then Stick.

He honestly hadn’t thought that he would let himself be vulnerable - be weak - around anyone else after all of it, yet here he was, burrowing in the warmth and smell of a boy he hadn’t even known for a year because there wasn’t anything else that could make him feel quite as safe.

Quiet, even footsteps move from the kitchen and into the bedroom, and Matt buries his face into Frank’s pillow while he mumbles his second attempt at a greeting.

Frank huffs out a laugh, setting his mug off to the side as he sits on the edge of the bed. “Hey, sleepyhead,” he greets. He ruffles Matt’s hair, and even though his fingers linger on the strands far longer than is normal, Matt still frowns when he pulls away.

“What time’s it?” Matt attempts to ask through the pillow.

By some miracle, Frank understands him, and answers, “Almost eleven. You had a long night, Red.”

Matt groans. He lets himself lie boneless for a few more moments before forcing himself to sit up. He doubts he looks presentable right now, hair a mess and the folds of the pillowcase and sheets probably visible on his skin, but he’s pretty sure he and Frank are past caring about appearances. It doesn’t mean he’s any less embarrassed by it, though. “It’s Monday,” he says, half an attempt to distract Frank from how not-crush-material he looks and half an actual complaint.

But Frank just shrugs, grin clear in his voice. “You needed your sleep, Red. And we both know your grades are high enough for you to miss a couple of days.”

“It’s not about the grades, it’s-”

“About the comprehension, I know,” Frank finishes. He gently nudges at Matt’s shoulder with his hand, just strong enough for him to feel it but not enough to actually move him. Frank’s always like that with him- firm enough for it to not feel like he’s made of glass, but never enough to break him even if he was.

Matt rolls his eyes, but there’s no denying the fondness in his expression. “Then you know I’m going to say we should still go to school.”

Frank nudges him again. “Say whatever you want, Murdock, we’re not going. We’ve got shit to do, you know.”

He says it lightly, but there’s the slightest undertone of graveness that has Matt straightening. “What is it?”

“Apparently one of the kids from the docks almost got kidnapped again, so all their guardians are pretty much putting them on lockdown. A bunch of police are on duty to watch some of their houses, too, and the longer we wait the more difficult it’ll get to talk to them.”

Matt nods then frowns. “Why didn’t you wake me earlier, then? We could’ve been at one of their houses by now!”

Frank sighs. “Didn’t wanna wake you. You looked- you know. Just get ready while I get you something to eat.” He shuffles out of the bedroom as quickly as he can without actually running.

Matt rises to his feet and stretches out his back, careful of his injuries. Despite Stick’s harsh treatment, it didn’t seem like anything had reopened or injured him enough to warrant some kind of medical attention, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt like a bitch.

He takes his time getting ready as he listens to Frank figure out where everything in the kitchen is, changing into a t-shirt and track pants before attempting to comb his hair into submission. It doesn’t quite work and he gives up after a few minutes, resigning himself to his fate. It takes him a few more minutes to brush his teeth and wash his face, and by then Frank has already made several pancakes, just shy of undercooked.

“Nelson mentioned you had some pretty sensitive taste buds,” Frank says as he pushes a plate towards him, “So if you want to eat something else I won’t mind.”

Matt shakes his head vigorously. “No, no. I like your food, Frank.” He says grace quickly, eager to eat now that the smell of the food was so close to him. He smiles around his first mouthful as though to say, See? I told you I think it’s good.

Frank shakes his head with a laugh and takes a bite himself, and the two of them eat quietly, simply enjoying each other’s company.

Matt’s senses are always just the slightest bit off right after he’s woken up, and it helps that he doesn’t have to focus on a conversation, instead allowing his mental blocks slide back into place and filter through all the sensory information around him.

But even without talking, Frank seems almost like a beacon amongst all the noises and smells that spread through the air, a lighthouse that guides Matt to shore despite not even trying to.

He only realizes he’s been slowly moving closer to Frank when the older makes a strangled sound in the back of his throat just seconds before they’re pressed side to side.

Matt flushes instantly, practically falling over himself in his haste to move back to his seat. “Sorry,” he groans. “I don’t- that’s- sorry. Forget that just happened, please.”

“No can do, Red,” Frank says, face emitting slightly more heat than usual (or were his senses just not working like normal yet?). “Are you, uh, okay?”

“Fine,” he mumbles. “I just- uh. You know.”

Frank coughs. “I don’t know. That’s kind of why I’m asking?”

Matt slumps down against the counter and muffles a groan into his arms. This is the worst . He squeezes his eyes shut as he takes in a deep breath, then lifts his head up just enough to have his voice be heard clearly. “You’re good to focus on while my senses get back up to speed, I guess. Since you’re-” he waves a hand at Frank’s general direction, “you.”

“Right,” Frank says slowly. “I am me, yes.”

Matt groans again. “We can talk about it later, okay? For now, we should just be focusing on eating our breakfast and finding a kid to talk to.”

Frank seems like he’s about to say something else, but he ultimately concedes and goes back to eating his pancakes.

They only talk after they’ve finished eating and washing the dishes, sliding their shoes and jackets on as they debate where to head first.

“The kid with the second kidnapping attempt lives by the police station next to that ugly-ass Starbucks, and most of the officers who’re watching the kids are sticking to the ones who live in that area. Fuck driving to protect the other kids, I guess,” Frank says. “The farthest kid lives by the new library. Where do you want to start?”

“Let’s start with the one farthest away,” Matt decides after a moment. He doesn’t think the police would really be able to stop him from doing what he wanted, but he definitely is worried about the kids who don’t have anyone to watch over them. After asking them for information, he’d do whatever he could to make sure they were as safe as they could be. He sets his glasses on the nearby counter space, not bothering to take his cane from where it leans against the wall by the door as he steps outside his apartment.

“Sounds good.” Frank moves to follow him through then seems to process Matt’s actions. “You don’t want your glasses?” He seems to understand that Matt can go without his cane if need be, but only in a few rare instances has he actually gone without his glasses.

People that know he’s blind see it as a vulnerability, see him as something sensitive and delicate without his glasses. Which is stupid because it’s not like the glasses protect him or do anything for him, really, but he supposes it’s just another one of those things about sighted people he’ll never understand.

“People would typically identify me as ‘blind’ before anything else,” he explains as Frank steps through the doorway. “If we’re going to be snooping around a bunch of police officers, it’s probably best if I don’t get ID’d within the first three seconds.”

Frank snorts. “That’s probably true. You, uh, want me to-” he sticks his elbow out slightly, just awkward enough for Matt to not feel uncomfortable about sliding his hand into the crook of it.

“Thanks,” he says, hoping it sounds as genuine as he means it. Even outside of using it as a guide, the physical contact is almost like a safety blanket, grounding him and keeping him calm even as his mind starts to on the horrors that are going on in his city. And maybe Stick was right, and maybe it does make him weak, but if it keeps him from going insane from all the screams and cries spread throughout the city, then he’ll take it.

(The fact that it has to do with Frank doesn’t hurt, either.)

*

The house is more of a run-down two-story building, with the first-floor being what seems to be a convenience store and the second being where the family likely lives.

He does a brief scan of the building, discreetly tugging Frank past the store and into an alley a couple of buildings down.

“There are four adults in the building, three on the first floor and one on the second. The child is on the second, in a room with a window facing this direction, and there’s an older kid and a teenager on the second floor as well.” He pauses as he listens again. “I think they’re in another room, but it’s hard to tell for sure.”

“What- do you want to go in through the roof?” Frank rubs a hand over the top of his head. “Jesus Christ.”

“I thought I was ‘Red’,” Matt teases. “But no. I’m going in through the window, and if something goes wrong I’m going to need you to either make a distraction or get me out if needed.”

Frank seems irritated at not being able to go in with him, but he doesn’t say anything beyond a few mumbled curse words. “Just do your thing, Murdock.”

He nods, then leaps up so he can get a hold of a nearby fire-escape, hauling himself up and scaling the side of the building until he’s on the roof. He waits for Frank to follow suit before he moves closer to the kid, senses keeping him vigilant of everything going on within a block radius.

It isn’t long before he’s only a couple of feet away from the kid’s window, double-checking everyone’s positions before he makes his move.

Frank grabs his wrist before he can move, and he tilts his head up toward him in confusion.

“Just- be safe, okay?” Frank whispers, so quiet Matt can only hear it with his enhanced senses.

He nods and flashes his best attempt at a reassuring smile (he doubts he succeeds - the only person he remembers trying to smile reassuringly was his dad, and it seemed to be another one of those things the Murdock boys couldn’t quite do right) before sliding the window open - why wasn’t it locked what the fuck there’s no point to all the adults keeping watch if the window wasn’t even fucking locked - and easing himself inside.

The kid must be facing the other side of the room since their heartbeat remains steady even when Matt stands up straight, taking in the layout of the room as thoroughly as possible in the short amount of time he has.

Eventually, he coughs. The kid startles, whirling around and probably ready to scream, and Matt, in typical chaotic-Murdock fashion, decides the best course of action is to make a farting noise with his armpit.

The kid freezes as Matt struggles to make the sound, probably looking like a demented half-chicken, half-mummy zombie. But the kid isn’t screaming, so Matt has to count his pathetic idea of a distraction as a win.

He drops his arms down to his side, keeping them lax as he sits down on the floor. He inclines his head up toward them, showing deference in the way Stick told him always made people feel more in control, and tries to seem as non-threatening as possible.

“I don’t know if you remember me, but I-”

“You’re the man from the docks,” the kid breathes out. They sound- in awe, almost, shock coloring their tone and making it difficult to read. “The ninja who saved me!”

Matt twitches. “Uh, I’m not really a ninja, but okay. Listen, I need to talk to you about that night, okay? The people who took you, I’m trying to stop them. They’re dangerous, and they’ve got a lot of bad plans, but I don’t know what they are. Is there anything you can tell me?”

The kid opens their mouth to speak, then clamps it shut. “The policeman said I’m not s'posed to tell anyone. It’s gonna get people in trouble.”

Matt shakes his head. “No one’s going to get hurt. Hey, what’s- what’s your name?”

“Jamie,” they whisper, quiet as a mouse.

Matt’s heart breaks for this child, not even at double digits, taken from their family and only brought back by a stroke of luck, terrified and confused and left with far too many questions and not enough people to tell them things were going to be okay. “Jamie, I promise nothing’s going to happen to you. Not to you, or your family. I’ll watch over you, okay? But if you know anything, I need you to tell me so I can stop the people responsible. Can you help me out?”

Jamie pauses, little fingers running along the ridges of a small toy before there’s the tiniest of nods. “You gotta keep ‘em safe,” they say desperately. “The policeman said it’d be dangerous, but if you keep them safe I can tell you.”

Matt nods. “I promise.” He pauses. It wasn’t unusual for law enforcement to discourage kids from sharing information relevant to ongoing crimes, especially to people outside of their family, but something about the way the kid says it rubs him the wrong way. “What exactly did you tell the police, and what did the policeman say to you?”

Jamie swallows. “I told him- I told him there were other kids. Lots of ‘em. And they weren’t dead, but they wouldn’t talk or move or do anything. They’d just sit there hooked up to a creepy machine and we weren’t allowed to touch them.” They shudder. “We were s’posed to end up like that too,” they mumble. “When you came and saved us, I think that was the night we were gonna go somewhere else to end up like those kids.”

There’s bile rising in the back of his throat, but Matt forces himself to keep his tone steady and light. He can't make Jamie feel scared- he doesn't want to risk freaking Jamie out so much they wouldn’t be able to share any more information, sure, but more importantly, the child was clearly terrified enough as it was. They don't need Matt, their supposed knight in shining armor, to be scared too.

They need a hero, and Matt will be damned if he doesn't give them one.

“Do you know what the machine did?” he asks gently. Jamie shakes their head, and he switches subjects quickly to keep either of them from dwelling on it longer than they have to. “The policeman- did you tell him about me?”

“I told him a hero came to save us,” Jamie says, voice finally gaining back some of the youthful exuberance it should’ve had from the start. “A ninja with a friend and a frenemy.”

Matt blinks. “That’s it?”

“Heroes need to keep their secret identity, don’t they?” Jamie says. “You’ve gotta stay a secret.”

A slow smile creeps onto his face. “You’re right. Thank you, Jamie.” He’ll look back at this moment later, soaking in the feeling of reaping the reward of doing something good, but for now, he needs to focus. “Do you remember what the policeman’s name was?”

Jamie taps a finger to their chin before straightening. “Yeah! His name was Officer Corbin, and he was kinda scary, but he gave me a lollipop.” Jamie produces said lollipop from their nightstand and offers it to Matt. “You can have it if you’d like.”

It was generous, but also pretty concerning. Jamie was a perfectly healthy child, and it was almost a one in a million chance of a perfectly healthy child in New York City not eating a lollipop after being in a traumatic situation.

“Do you not like lollipops?” Matt asks carefully.

“No, I do,” Jamie answers easily. “And if you want it, you probably shouldn’t eat it. You can give it to your frenemy if they’re being mean to you, though.”

“Jamie,” Matt says slowly, “do you trust Officer Corbin?”

For the first time since their conversation started, Jamie hesitates before answering. Not in the way you do when you’re trying to think of the answer, but in the way that you have an answer, but you’re not sure if you should say it. Eventually, though, Jamie nods. “Officer Corbin didn’t seem like a good guy. And he kept walking off to talk on his phone to his boss, except his boss didn’t seem like a policeman.” Jamie leans closer. “I think he’s working with the bad guys.”

Matt sucks in a breath. There’s no way the kid could possibly know everything, and there’s a chance the officer just rubbed them the wrong way, but Jamie seemed far too reasonable and mature for it to be written off as an irrational, childish fear.

This was, without a doubt, not good.

“Jamie, do you think you’d be able to get your family out of the city?” he asks. “I know I said I’d keep an eye on you, but this seems to be a lot bigger than I thought it was. You’ll be safer the farther away you are, at least until everything is taken care of here.”

“My auntie lives in Connecticut,” Jamie offers. “She just divorced her husband and got to keep the house so we can probably stay with her.”

Thanks for oversharing your aunt’s history, Jamie.

“That’s- fine. Will you be able to convince your parents?”

Jamie nods. “They’re both pretty scared right now, so I think maybe we would all feel better if we’re far away.”

“Good,” Matt breathes. He swallows tightly. “If you think your parents will believe you about the police officer, then tell them. And maybe even if they won’t, you should try. Do what you can to stop people from knowing where exactly you’re going, especially the police. Okay?”

“Okay,” Jamie says. “Oh, the people who took me spoke Russian. I forgot to mention that earlier.”

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

Matt forces his breaths to come evenly. “That’s okay. Thank you for telling me. Is there anything else you remember?”

Jamie shakes their head, hair bouncing around them like a hazy sort of halo. “That’s it. Are you going to be okay, Mister Hero?”

Matt smiles, rising up to his feet and ignoring the ache in his legs as he does so. “I’ll be okay. Take care of yourself, okay? And don’t hesitate before asking for help, even when you think you can go without it.”

“I promise. I hope you win quickly, Mister Hero!”

Matt gives Jamie a quick pat on the head before sliding back out the window. “Make sure to lock it!” he calls, and then he climbs back up to the roof.

Frank’s next to him immediately, practically vibrating with anticipation. “I heard bits and pieces, but not enough to piece anything together. Wanna debrief over hot dogs?”

Matt lets his shoulders slump, tipping forward so his forehead rests against Frank’s chest. “That sounds great,” he whispers. He’s drained - listening to Jamie and thinking about whatever kind of crime was starting to bubble up in Hell’s Kitchen made him angry, and terrified, and frustrated, and all the emotions were stuck simmering under the surface of his skin until he felt like only a shell of who he was supposed to be.

Frank makes a shocked and concerned noise but doesn’t say anything, instead carding his fingers through Matt’s hair gently. “We’ll go in a few minutes,” he says quietly. “New York isn’t exactly short on hot dogs.”

“Mmm,” Matt hums. He can’t find the energy to do much else but stand there, but thankfully Frank seems to understand that.

Frank lets him pull himself back together piece by piece, doing nothing but support him silently as he does so.

It’s exactly what Matt needs, even though he didn’t even know to ask for it, and maybe it’s the emotions swirling in his chest or the tiredness of dancing around whatever was between them for so long, but Matt decides as soon as this whole thing was resolved, he was going to love the fuck out of Frank, reputation and pride be damned.

Just- as soon as everything was over.

(He pretended he didn’t think of it more as an ‘ if everything is over’ more than anything else. For optimism, and all that. And maybe just a little bit of bull-headed denial and desperation for a happy ending.)

Chapter Text

Matt only manages to talk to a few more kids before there are too many cops for him to get close. Which is good since they seem to be genuinely trying to watch over them, but makes it far more difficult for Matt to gather any more information.

The kids he had talked to gave pretty similar accounts, although there were a few slight variances between all of them. One of the things they had in common, though, was seeing a group of zombie-like kids that were being experimented on (or something equally immoral and horrifying) and a police officer that didn’t seem quite as concerned with protecting and serving like they ought to be.

One of the kids besides Jamie named the officer as Corbin, but the other two give unfamiliar names, which makes Matt wary.

One corrupt cop was- not good, but manageable, but so many, especially all working on the same case? It spelled nothing but trouble.

After several more failed attempts to try and talk to a kid, Matt sighs and heads back to where Frank’s waiting not even a block away. Traveling between residencies had taken time, and Matt can feel the slowly fading heat of the setting sun on his skin. Even if he was able to talk to a few more kids, the added suspense and mystery that darkness brings would make it more difficult to get any of the kids to trust and open up to him. And they’d also probably be asleep, anyways.

“That’s all we’re going to get for now,” he says. “We should head back before someone sees us hanging around and gets the wrong idea.”

Frank nods. “We can go over the information later, and I’ll ask Lieberman if he’s heard anything about those cops.” He swears under his breath and mutters something about scumbags who ought to follow the rules they were sworn by oath into, but Matt’s too tired to understand the exact words.

“I’m pretty beat so I’m going to just- pass out for a few hours.” Matt rubs at his eyes as he fights back a yawn. Even besides the emotional exhaustion, constantly scaling various buildings and prying windows open as the wind nipped at his fingers wore him out. “Just- give me a quick reminder where we are?”

Frank lays a steadying hand on his shoulder when he sways a bit too much to be overlooked. “You sure you’re good to go back by yourself?” he asks, voice concerned. His touch is soft but firm, the perfect pressure to lean into, and Matt can only hum distractedly in response.

He doesn’t even realize his eyes have started to slip shut and he’s falling asleep where he stands until Frank shakes him gently.

“C’mon, Red, I’ll take you to your place,” Frank murmurs.

Matt nods vaguely, following after Frank’s warmth as they make their way back to the sidewalk, ambling down the path with nothing but the ambient noise of the city to accompany them.

It’s a peaceful evening, the chatter of the city’s residents filling up the air in a symphony of sounds, distinct smells and noises filling his senses, familiar in the way everything about the city is.

For a short while, Matt has no idea where they are, but eventually, they pass by the Korean fusion restaurant a few blocks away from his apartment, and the familiar smells key him into their location. The knowledge of where they are steadies him just the slightest bit, and his steps aren’t quite as hesitant as they were before.

He relaxes with each step closer to his apartment, nearly walking in a daze until there’s a piercing scream that makes his blood freeze.

It’s almost deafening - the panic and desperation to be safe, the terror and prayers to not die not now, not yet - but it must be that close because Frank makes a confused little noise, inhaling in that way he always does before he’s about to ask a question.

Matt cuts him off before he can even open his lips. “Someone’s in danger.” Every bit of fatigue that had been weighing him down and seeping from his skin to his bones vanishes, adrenaline pumping through his veins as he tries to figure out what direction the noise had come from. It takes him a moment to figure it out - too long, please let it not be too late - and he jerks his head in the general direction before breaking off into a sprint. “This way!”

Frank follows after him with a few quiet swears, catching up quickly even as he struggles to keep his phone from falling out of his pocket.

It’s hard to focus past all of the emotions swarming through his mind, but he manages to track a terrified heartbeat, backed into the corner of an alley not too far away.

It takes a couple of minutes for them to finally arrive, and it’s just in time. Some gang members - Albanian, if the stench of the liquor brand soaked into their clothes is any indication - are cornering two people. Adults, with office jobs in a building that seriously needs to get their pipes fixed.

Frank stops him just before Matt jumps in, a hand clamping around his arm in an iron grip.

“Hold on a second,” he hisses. “You’re saving people you don’t even know-”

“So what? I’m supposed to just let them get hurt?” Matt whispers back. Fury rises in the back of his throat, building into a fire that threatens to consume him until he’s nothing but frustration and deadly intent.

No -” Frank sounds vaguely insulted, which keeps Matt calm enough to actually listen to his next words, “I just mean that you can’t save them without disguising yourself. Especially since they’re a bunch of adults, they won’t be as willing to hide your identity because they think you’re Superman or something.”

The anger spills out of his body immediately, and Matt nods dumbly. “Oh. Right. Uh-” He steps back, clambering up a building to where he can hear the sound of clothes rippling in the wind as they’re left out to dry, and grabs the first soft thing he can find.

He wraps it around his head quickly, feeling around to make sure no random tufts of hair or flashes of skin above his mouth are showing, then goes back to where Frank waits.

He licks his lips as he shakes out his hands. He jerks his head toward the gang, then asks, “You gonna join in?”

Frank shrugs. “Only if it seems like you need the help. I don’t exactly want to make a name for myself as a vigilante, you know.”

Matt huffs, the only response he gives before he picks up a discarded beer bottle from the ground and throws it at the group, charging as one of them is hit and the rest scramble in confusion.

He manages to knock two of them to the ground before they start attacking him in earnest, but none of them are trained fighters, so only a few of their hits land.

His main goal is to protect the civilians, and he’s careful to not spend too much time fighting against any one person so as to avoid the others trying to finish whatever it was Matt had interrupted.

The civilians aren’t moving - they can’t, not with the fight blocking them into the end of the alley - and Matt can hear their pounding heartbeats, fear and confusion making them sound like their hearts are just about bursting out of their chests.

Matt delivers several punishing blows, but his adrenaline is starting to wear out and exhaustion makes each duck slower, each punch weaker. He uses the space around him as best as he can, using dumpsters and trash as weapons and shields in turn.

He knocks one of the gang members out with a strong hit to the jaw, but can’t quite move out of the way in time to avoid being tackled from behind, even though he knew it was coming.

He falls to the ground, smacking furiously at his attacker while rolling to the side to avoid a vicious kick from someone else.

Stick may have said relying on others was a weakness, but he always failed to mention that even if it was cowardly, it also made things so much easier.

“Some help would be nice!” Matt shouts as he staggers to his feet and slams someone against the wall and then into a nearby dumpster.

On command, Frank joins the fray, landing a solid hit on the guy trying to grab Matt from behind.

A good portion of the Albanians are down, although enough of them are still conscious and pissed off enough to keep Matt’s guard up. He dodges a sloppy swing and hits back harder, grinning viciously when it connects and he can hear the crack of their jaw.

A few feet behind him, he can hear Frank throwing one person into another, and he allows himself a moment to marvel at how strong Frank is before forcing himself to focus. He flips into the air, slamming down onto a nearby attacker on his way down, easing himself to his feet as he tries to put together the world around him.

Only a couple more people are still up by this point, and Matt ducks a punch from one of them (laughing with bloody teeth when their fist scrapes against the brick wall behind him, cutting the skin open and causing a strangled yelp to burst from their mouth) as Frank takes care of the other with just a couple of strong, well-placed punches.

Matt kicks at the man then lands a solid punch to his chin, then a few more once he staggers. When the man finally collapses, Matt can barely keep himself standing, chest heaving while his body struggles to get enough air.

Frank’s at his side in seconds, subtly helping to keep Matt standing without letting their onlookers see just how exhausted he really is. “Hey, Red,” he murmurs. “Pretty tired, huh?”

“Who are you two?” One of the adults ask. He sounds confused but mostly incredulous, and Matt would laugh if he had the energy.

“I’m just helping out a friend,” Frank says, just loud enough for them to hear.

The man rolls his eyes so aggressively it’s nearly audible. “And who’s your friend? Can Dread Pirate Roberts explain anything, or-”

“You’re welcome. Get home safe,” Matt interrupts. He ducks out of the alley as quickly as he can, Frank not far behind.

He stops to catch his breath when they’re about a block away, and he can’t help but listen in to the two adults’ conversation. He isn’t sure if they know why exactly they were attacked, and he is a little curious to know what they thought about him and Frank. Did they take them seriously? Could they tell they weren’t even of legal drinking age?

The man who had talked to them earlier is speaking, and he seems vaguely irritated. “Flipping all over like that? Taking on half a dozen gangsters by himself but somehow winning?” A scoff. “Guy seems pretty stupid to me.”

“Not stupid, just…” There’s a thoughtful pause that has Matt straining to hear more carefully. “Risky. And besides, you’ve read the police reports about those missing kids being found. Seems like he pulls this kind of shit whenever someone needs saving.”

A muffled groan echoes and spreads through the air. “Yeah, and you know what the police thought of his whole ‘stepping out of a burning shipping container with his hands literally on fire with a bunch of dead bodies around’ shtick? That he was the literal devil.”

“Well, we both know the police aren’t the best at delivering completely accurate and honest information. I wouldn’t say the guy’s a devil, just… A daredevil, maybe. Someone who doesn’t seem to play it safe, at least when there are lives at stake.”

“Call him whatever you want, Ben. I’m still going to say he’s an idiot who’s going to end up dying because of this city if he keeps it up.”

A sigh. “Well, you’re probably not wrong about that.”

Frank’s hand against his own brings Matt’s attention away from the adults and to his immediate surroundings.

“Sorry. Were you saying something?”

Frank shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s hope the mobsters take enough of a break for us to get to your place in peace.”

Thankfully, no one else nearby seems to be in danger, and it isn’t long before they’re entering his apartment quietly, careful not to bother his neighbors.

He only realizes that he’s still wearing the makeshift mask when he moves to remove his glasses out of habit, only to find snugly-wrapped fabric. He tugs it off and makes a mental note to try and return it later, although he can’t help running his fingers over the soft material in the meantime.

“You better not be thinking about giving that back, Murdock,” Frank tells him as he pours two glasses of water.

Matt shoots him an insulted look. “Why not? It could be-”

“You got blood all over it, and some of it isn’t even yours,” Frank cuts him off. “I’d wash the hell out of it either way, but it’s probably not the best idea to let whoever owns it get some weird disease.”

Now that he mentions it, there are spots where spatters of blood must have fallen, with small sections slightly tacky and smelling of iron. He frowns down at his fingers when they come up with the distinct feeling of blood. “Fine. What is this, anyway?” The least he can do is give them some sort of replacement, even if it wouldn’t quite be the same as the original.

“Some shirt, I think.” Frank comes closer to take a better look, then steps away once he’s satisfied. “Nothing special. You can probably find a bunch of similar things at WalMart, honestly.” He hands Matt one of the glasses, which he gulps at gratefully.

“Thanks.” He sets the cup down after a few moments when he yawns for several seconds.

“Jesus, you must be tired. Get some sleep and I’ll see you soon, alright?” Frank moves to the door, but Matt stops him before he can make it past a few steps.

“It’s late. It’s Hell’s Kitchen. Do I need to say the rest again, or do you get the picture?”

Frank laughs, shaking his head fondly, but he moves back toward the center of the apartment anyway. “Alright, alright. I’ll use the bathroom after you. Now hurry up before you fall asleep standing.”

Matt sticks his tongue out but obeys, easing his tired body into bed with a content sigh as his skin comes into contact with the comfortable material. He’s starting to drift off when Frank steps out of the bathroom, hesitating in the entrance to the bedroom before turning toward the living room.

“Where’re you going?” Matt mumbles.

“Oh, Christ, you’re awake.” Frank turns back toward him, but he doesn’t come any closer. “I’m going to sleep.”

“On the couch?” Matt asks dryly.

Frank coughs. “Well, I-”

Matt waves a hand through the air. “Just get over here, already.” Matt scoots over to the side, having to work hard to keep himself from grinning stupidly at Frank once he climbs into bed beside him.

They settle in quietly, facing each other in a way that must be just as intimate for Frank as it is for Matt if the other’s elevated heartbeat is anything to go off of. The smell and sound of everything are so much more pronounced up close, even taste amplified enough Matt can almost feel it against his tongue.

He doesn’t doubt that, despite lacking the kind of sensory input Matt does from his remaining senses, that Frank and other sighted people can still be just as affected by close proximity as he is.

He can remember the few times he was allowed to watch TV as a kid, seeing Hollywood romances that seemed to love long, drawn-out moments of lingering contact and meaningful gazes. Being merely inches apart seemed to add to romance, according to the films, and with Frank laying not even a foot away from him, Matt is inclined to agree.

Frank’s voice brings him back to the present, making him all the more aware of their current position. “How long are we going to keep doing this?”

Matt tilts his head as much as he can from where it’s pressed against his pillow. “Doing what?”

“This.” Frank gestures a hand between them as he speaks. “Are we- are we ever going to talk about it?” His heart is starting to beat faster and faster, fingers fiddling with the blankets and sheets, and ever so slowly, Matt realizes what he’s talking about.

“Oh. Oh.” Matt blinks. “Um.”

Matt can practically hear Frank deflate. “Forget I asked. You probably see me as a friend anyways, so if you’re uncomfortable, I-”

“I don’t see you as a friend,” Matt says hastily, desperate to stop Frank from getting the wrong idea. “Well, you are a friend, and I hope that we are friends, but I also- you’re not just a friend.” He takes a deep breath but can’t quite seem to find the words that are supposed to come next, leaving him silently grasping for an idea of what the hell he’s supposed to do now.

“I think…” Frank pauses. “If you’re okay with talking about it, it’s probably a conversation we should have when we’re not completely exhausted and two seconds away from passing out.”

Matt frowns, but there’s no denying that he is ready to drop off into dreamland at a moment’s notice, so he begrudgingly agrees. “Fine. Goodnight, then.”

Frank lifts a hand then hesitates, heartbeat barely any calmer than it had been during the fight earlier. Eventually, he puts his hand against Matt’s cheek, stroking his thumb across the skin in a slow, sweeping motion.

Matt leans into the warmth, humming contentedly at the feeling of Frank’s calloused skin and the smell of home, and falls asleep the easiest he ever has in years.

Chapter Text

By some completely unexpected stroke of luck, nothing bad happens come morning. Matt had almost expected something terrible to happen once he woke up, like Elektra yanking him out of bed with bad news and a warning.

Instead, he wakes up slowly and peacefully, the sound and feel of the bed shifting beneath him slowly bringing him back to wakefulness.

“Morning, Red,” Frank mumbles. His voice is rough with sleep, a certain charm to it that has Matt’s heart stuttering in his chest. There’s something so domestic about it all- waking up beside Frank as the sun’s rays warm both of their skin and the sheets around them.

Matt does his best to give a normal-sounding response that doesn’t give away how his heart is practically melting in his chest, but he can’t help the dopey smile that spreads across his face as he stretches.

Frank slaps around at the bedside table before retrieving something and pressing against it. “Ah, fuck, it’s late.”

“What time’s it?”

“Almost noon,” Frank says with a sigh. “Whatever, we were up late, anyway.”

“Do you wanna make something or order in? I don’t really feel like going anywhere to eat,” Matt says sheepishly. He honestly doesn’t really want anything but to stay in bed with Frank, talking and enjoying each other’s company in a way he hasn’t wanted to do with anyone else before.

Frank muffles a groan into a pillow. “Let’s order in. What do you want to eat?”

“I’m cool with whatever.” Matt sits up and stretches until his back pops, to which he gives a satisfied noise. “You can decide while I brush my teeth.”

“Yeah, yeah, leave all the hard decisions to me,” Frank says, mock-offended.

Matt winks at him as he heads toward the bathroom, relishing in the way Frank’s heart skips a beat. “Well, you make it so easy.” Frank gets out of bed a few moments after Matt reaches the sink, shuffling around by the counter before making a call.

He rattles off an order Matt tunes out, just letting the sound of Frank’s voice wash over him in the otherwise quiet apartment. Outside of the walls, the city is bustling and teeming with life, but inside them, it’s just him and Frank, and he can’t say he minds at all.

By the time he steps into the kitchen, Frank’s already hung up and is tapping mindlessly on his phone.

“I ordered us some pizza - not from Capizzi’s, I need a break from that place - which’ll be here in twenty to thirty minutes,” Frank tells him. “Mind if I use your bathroom in the meantime?”

Matt gestures for him to go ahead. “Go for it. You don’t really have to ask at this point, honestly, you’ve been here enough times for you to use the bathroom without asking for permission each time.”

Frank huffs out a laugh and ruffles his hair as he passes him. “If you say so, Red. Don’t blame me if I somehow fuck your sink, though.”

Matt rolls his eyes, knowing that Frank’s joking (or at least he hopes he is) and shoves him half-heartedly towards the bathroom. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Just focus on your hygiene, Castle.”

Frank gives him a mock salute but obeys, and Matt wanders around his apartment in the meantime, clearing space for them on the couch to eat.

*

Frank retrieves their food from the deliveryperson once it arrives, and Matt says grace quickly before they both dig in. The pizza is still warm, and it tastes good enough for Matt to be able to ignore the slight grime and dirt that’s mixed into the dough. Frank’s obvious satisfaction with the food helps him to enjoy it, and he catches himself smiling without even realizing it when Frank makes a pleased noise after taking another large bite.

They chat about random topics - Matt’s abysmal apartment and how he really ought to have some decorations or something to spice up the place, the tricks Max has mastered and the few he’s stubbornly refusing to learn, favorite foods for each season - as they eat, simply enjoying each other’s company in the short bit of peace that they have.

Eventually, though, there’s a lull, and the telltale uptick in Frank’s heartbeat keeps Matt silent as he waits for the other to say whatever’s on his mind. It takes him several painfully long minutes before he finally does.

“So,” he begins slowly. “We should, uh- do you wanna talk about- you know.” He clears his throat. “What we talked about last night?”

Matt swallows. He had almost forgotten about it in the way that you don’t forget about it at all because you’re constantly hyperaware of it and waiting on edge until something - anything - happens. “Uh, yeah, sure.”

Frank nods. “Right.”

“Right.”

“Yeah.”

Matt inhales slowly and gathers all the courage he can muster before saying, “Well, I like you. As more than a friend.”

A beat of silence, and then, “You’re really fucking cute.”

Matt blinks. “I- thank you?”

Frank swears. “Sorry, fuck- you just- you’re blushing again, and I-” he cuts himself off with a barrage of muffled swears. “Ignore that.” He takes a deep breath. “I like you too. In a more-than-friends way.”

Matt grins, and his cheeks feel even warmer than before as his heart threatens to burst out of his chest. “Cool. What, uh, what now?”

“Do you wanna date?” Frank asks. He’s fidgeting with the loose hem of his shirt sleeve, and Matt places his hand over Frank’s without even thinking about it. For a moment Frank is frozen still, but then he’s relaxing into the touch and turning his hand to intertwine their fingers.

“Yeah, that’s- good,” Matt manages to say.

Frank lights up in response, a beacon of light and joy that almost overwhelms Matt with how lovely it is. “Cool. We’re dating now, then.”

Matt nods. “Cool.” He gets distracted when Frank’s thumb rubs little circles against his skin and only snaps out of it several moments later. “Have you done this before?”

Frank makes an inquisitive noise. “Done what? Date someone?”

Matt nods. He feels almost unbearably awkward, and he’s reminded yet again of how much of his childhood he missed and how little he knows about socializing and relationships compared to nearly all of his peers.

Unexpectedly, Frank shakes his head. “The most I’ve done was gotten a kiss on the cheek playing spin the bottle in seventh grade.” He sighs. “It was wet and I hated every second of it.”

Laughter bubbles out of Matt’s throat before he can help himself. “Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, I just-”

“No, go ahead and laugh, it’s fucking hilarious,” Frank says, voice light and filled with humor. His smile is audible in the way it curves his words ever so slightly, and it makes Matt smile even wider.

“You better not try and kiss me like that, Castle,” Matt teases. “I’m rescinding bathroom permissions if you try and recreate the experience.”

Frank cackles even as his heart jolts. “I might just have to do it to see the expression on your face,” he says with glee. “God, that’d be hilarious.”

Matt grins, but there’s no denying that both of them are painfully aware of how little physical affection they’ve shared even as friends and the occasional times Frank has patched Matt up. Talking about first kisses is fun and easy to laugh about until you start thinking about when how where it’ll actually happen.

Judging by the slight energy thrumming under the surface of Frank’s skin, he feels the same. That, strangely enough, is what gives Matt the courage to speak.

“Can I kiss you?”

Frank swallows hard. “Fuck, definitely, I- go for it.”

Matt grins around his heart in his throat, and he leans forward ever so slowly, making sure to move in the right direction and not end up planting a kiss on Frank’s chin or somewhere equally not-Frank’s-mouth. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it’d be embarrassing enough to deter him from trying to initiate anything for the next couple of weeks, at the very least.

Although he doesn’t quite have to worry about his aim being off because Frank meets him halfway, and then there’s the unfamiliar but no less welcome feeling of lips against his own as their heart rates elevate to a what feels like a thousand beats per minute.

Neither of them know quite what to do, which makes Matt indescribably relieved, and when they separate he’s smiling like a lovesick fool (which is probably the most accurate description of Matt at the moment).

“I’m really, really happy this ended up happening,” Matt tells Frank because, well, it’s true. While he’s not exactly grateful for all the shit he went through that led him to this point in his life, there’s no denying how unbelievably grateful he is to know Frank and be able to be a part of his life.

Frank’s cheeks flush beautifully, and Matt lets himself press soft kisses to them now that he finally can, laughing at the soft, pleased noise of surprise it causes. “I’m glad too,” he says. There’s a warmth in Frank’s voice that had always been there, but it’s even stronger now, and it feels like whatever rose up in Matt’s chest when his dad came home from the gym, worn out but satisfied, and scooped Matt up with a crooked grin and rough yet gentle hands.

Matt couldn’t stop smiling if he wanted to, and he knows with Frank right beside him, it’ll be a couple thousand of lifetimes before he won’t want to. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chapter Text

As much as Matt would like to spend the rest of the day with Frank just doing nothing, it’s nearly impossible to just stand idle when he’s gotten a glimpse of the horrible things that are happening in his city. He has to do something, anything , before it’s too late to. But he doesn’t have to do it alone.

Frank seems to share his distaste for the criminals rising up and banding together and is just as eager to put an end to all of it as soon as possible. And it’s almost like he’s skilled in all the ways Matt needs him to be- a perfect complement.

It makes him even more grateful to have Frank in his life, but he isn’t sure if it’s too soon or too awkward to voice these thoughts so early into their relationship, so he keeps it to himself.

“I want to look more into the Japanese group,” Matt tells Frank as they finish cleaning up and slipping on their shoes. “Whatever’s going on, they seem to be the most knowledgable about it.”

Frank hums an agreement. He’s wearing his boots again, and the combination of that with his biker jacket makes the smell of leather all that much stronger. “Fine by me. You know where they hang out?”

Matt tries to focus on sliding a hoodie on rather than how warm and soothing Frank smells. Now is not the time. “I know at least one of their meeting places, but if they’re not there I can try and search for some trace of them to track.”

Frank goes to the kitchen, opening a drawer and placing something from it into one of his pockets before returning to the foyer. “Alright. Lead the way, then.”

*

Not much is different from all the times they had gone places together now compared to before. Matt kind of desperately wants to hold Frank’s hand, but he’s pretty sure there’s a timeline all relationships are supposed to follow, and he doesn’t want to get them off on the wrong foot.

But his body doesn’t seem to be on the same page, because he’s found himself reaching for Frank’s hand absentmindedly several times now in the past few minutes, and it doesn’t seem like it’d be stopping anytime soon.

He’s about to shove his hands in his pockets as deep as they can go, ignoring how ridiculous it might look, when Frank nudges him with his elbow.

“Your hand need something?” he asks. His voice is carefully light, and Matt can tell Frank’s putting in effort to keep his voice steady.

Immediately, Matt’s face bursts into flames, embarrassment and nervousness causing enough heat to rise to his face for him to worry about the blood circulation for the rest of his body. “No,” he says.

Frank doesn’t say anything, not even making the smallest hum or grunt to show he heard, and Matt’s nerves increase tenfold.

He’s about to say something else, anything to try and redirect Frank’s attention to something else when Frank slides his fingers between Matt’s in a slow, gentle movement. “I’ve been, uh.” Frank coughs. “I was wondering if you’d do it first or if I should.”

Matt blinks. He nearly stumbles over a crack in the sidewalk that he had been too distracted to notice, but Frank’s grip on him helps to keep him from falling. “I, uh-”

“If you ever want to let go, feel free,” Frank tells him, forcibly casual. Matt can hear the tension in his voice just as well as he can his pounding heart, and knowing how much something like holding hands means to Frank as it does to him helps him to relax.

“I won’t, but alright. Same goes for you.” He grins at Frank, cheeks still warm - not from shame but from joy - and can’t force the smile off his face for the rest of the walk no matter how hard he tries.

Their hands aren’t exactly a perfect fit, but after a bit of shifting around it seems as close to perfect as something can get. Matt focuses on each part of his hand that’s touching Frank’s, reveling in the warmth and strength he gets from just a few points of contact.

He feels both lighter yet more grounded, a sensation linked purely to whenever Frank is nearby. Frank always seems to give him the exact amount of comfort best for him, providing support and clarity whenever he needs it most.

Matt gives Frank’s hand a squeeze, hoping to convey even just a fraction of all the things in his head. He doesn’t have the time or words to properly share just how happy Frank makes him, but he figures that this will do for now.

Matt can almost let himself pretend that they’re just like any other pair of teenagers on a date, walking to some cafe or event to talk about homework and everything else people their age did. But it’s hard to keep thinking that when every sharp noise and movement reminds him of the horrors occurring in the city, and how it seems like they’re the only ones who can actually stop it.

*

No one is inside the building Matt had overheard the group meeting in, but he still approaches it carefully. After all, they had nearly silent heartbeats from a distance, and he had no idea what kinds of other abilities they might have that would make it difficult for him to detect their presence. While it was unlikely they were in the building, one could never be too careful.

They head in quietly, slipping in through one of the back entrances and searching through the first floor for any signs of life.

Thankfully, though, there are no signs of life even as they begin to go up the stairs, checking floor by floor if there was anything strange or out of place. But half an hour later, they’ve still got nothing.

“How do you want to do this?” Frank asks him with an audible smile. “You gonna sniff around for clues?”

Matt rolls his eyes, but there’s no denying how fond he is. “I’ll go to where they were meeting and see if there are any traces that they left behind. Which, yes, includes smells.”

Frank laughs. “Hey, you’re the boss.”

*

Matt manages to find a piece of fabric snagged on a bit of splintered wood, smelling faintly of incense and jade, as well as the smell of the city’s underground.

He shows it to Frank who grins and intertwines their hands together, and they set off yet again in search of answers.

There’s a slowly rising tension that neither of them can ignore no matter how hard they try, growing more and more intense as every moment passes that everything is still left unresolved. They don’t know what kinds of things could be happening while they snoop around abandoned buildings, how many people are being threatened and hurt with no one to help them.

There could be dozens of kids plucked out of their parents’ grasp while they meander down the street, and they would be powerless to stop it.

They walk faster.

*

Eventually, the trail leads them to an old packaging facility at the edge of Hell’s Kitchen. It’s worn down, probably having been closed for years by this point, and Matt can hear the wind flow in through cracks and holes in the windows.

There isn’t anyone around, and they wander around the perimeter of the building before finding a door that opens with a few careful tugs.

Matt barely keeps back a sneeze the moment they enter, the dust and smells mixing together in a combination that’s brutal for his sinuses. “Ew,” he hisses.

Frank pats his back sympathetically.

They stick close to each other as they move forward, both of them too on-edge and paranoid to let the other go farther than arm’s distance away. They take their time exploring the open space, with Frank sending pictures of anything noteworthy to Micro for him to look into.

Eventually, they make their way towards a hallway, and nothing seems particularly sinister for a few moments before Matt freezes.

There’s something strange, something Matt’s never come across before in his life, that’s sitting in the room just a few feet ahead of them.

He can’t quite get a good idea of its smell from this distance and all the other unfamiliar things around them, but it makes a distinct and eerie noise that’s almost impossible to ignore. He inches toward it automatically, and he tugs on Frank’s sleeve as he steps toward it.

“Over there,” Matt tries to point in the direction the sound is coming from, leaning forward instinctively as though it would help him hear any better than he already can.

Together, they step into the room, hands finding each other yet again in a desperate search for comfort.

Frank shifts closer, heart accelerating in his chest as he takes in the source of the noise. “I’ll send a picture to David, see what he can come up with.”

Matt can barely remember to nod, rigid as he takes in the strange, echoing object that seems to suck everything into it and let nothing out.

He inches closer, trailing a hand over the smooth surface, shivering at the cold temperature and the strange material. It feels like some sort of stone or rock, maybe, slight bumps in the texture that suggest it isn’t completely man-made. But the most unsettling part of it is the inside.

It seems almost like a void, a gaping wide hole that sounds like it would swallow a scream and release nothingness, a place something would go to get lost and never found again.

It’s the most terrifying thing Matt’s ever known.

Frank seems to notice his discomfort because he comes up beside him and places a firm but gentle hand on his shoulder. “You alright?” he murmurs.

He struggles to nod, struggles to do anything but give all his attention to the chasm of nothingness in front of him.

“What is this thing?” Frank murmurs. He circles around it to keep inspecting it, but Matt stays where he’s standing.

Matt puts his hand back on the object, letting his fingers follow along its curves and ridges. It’s large, big enough to fit an adult person in, and that realization causes him to freeze for a moment. But there’s no way right now for him to know what the strange object is used for, and he should try to keep himself from jumping to the worst possible conclusion.

Frank’s phone buzzes, jolting Matt out of whatever headspace he had been slipping into. “Micro says the text on it is something like ‘resurrection’,” Frank says. He moves back to where Matt’s standing to take his hand and lead it to the raised bumps. “It’s kanji, apparently.”

Matt traces the text silently, mind racing as he tries to figure out what exactly the object is. But the more they learn about it, the less good it seems. “Frank, I don’t- we shouldn’t stay here any longer. This doesn’t-” He struggles to take in a breath. “Whatever this thing is, it isn’t good.”

Frank seems to understand just how freaked out the thing is making him, and he doesn’t ask any questions, instead leading both of them out of the room as quickly as possible.

Frank doesn’t stop moving until they’re out of the building, but the moment he slows, Matt picks up the pace until they’re at least a couple of blocks away.

They take a few minutes to gather their bearings, and Frank leads them over to a table on the edge of some park to sit down. “What was that about?” Frank asks him after a few moments. “That thing really freaked you out.”

Matt shrugs jerkily. “It- it was like nothingness ,” he says. “I could feel the surface of it, could hear the vibrations as something touched it, but-” He sighs. “I don’t know. It was like there was some sort of weird void inside of it.”

Frank hums. “David already said he’d start trying to look into it and see if there’s anything similar that already exists. Nothing we can really do now but wait.”

Matt raises an eyebrow. “Are you trying to tell me to be patient?”

“That depends, is it working?”

Matt rolls his eyes, but most of the tension has already left his body. “Alright, whatever.” He takes in a breath to say something else but pauses. “There’s a really good Chinese place half a block from here. Wanna try it out?”

Frank laughs. It isn’t as loud and strong as it usually is, indicating just how unsettled Frank is with everything that’s happened asl well, but there’s enough to it for Matt to not worry. “You and your picky eating. Yeah, sure, let’s try it out.”

There are still about half a billion questions they both need answers to, but for now, this is enough.

They’ll regroup over some good food and even better company, and whatever life throws at them, they’ll handle it. Together.

Chapter Text

Besides the weird thing in the building, there isn’t much else. Matt’s almost tempted to head back to his apartment, but he can’t rest easy when they’ve only just started to uncover the mysteries overtaking the city.

At least Frank doesn’t seem to mind, and he’s fine with following after Matt as he attempts to track down any other bases the group may be using.

The two of them move throughout the city, getting off-course a few times by a distracting sound or smell that temporarily captures Matt’s attention, but manage to locate three other places that the group had used.

Two of them don’t seem to have been used recently, traces of them being used faded in the way that only time can do. But the last one is almost secreting the combination of jade and incense unique to the group, and Matt knows from a block away that they’ve found what they were looking for.

Matt jerks his head toward the building but stays back, far more mindful of every minute noise and disturbance around it than any of the previous buildings. If the group was currently inside of any of their little hide-outs, it’d almost definitely be this one. “Seems like that’s their current base of operations,” he tells Frank. “Let’s go slowly.”

Frank hums in acknowledgment, and together they approach the building, cautious yet casual to the untrained eye. It was still daytime, after all, and it wouldn’t go well if someone saw a couple of teenage boys trying to sneak into an abandoned building- it’d be a surefire way to get the cops involved and ruin their chances of finding answers without letting the group know they were onto them.

But even as they move closer, the building is devoid of any life- no scuffing of soles against the ground, shifts of fabric, or even the quietest of exhales. Matt concentrates all of his senses to scan their building but still comes up with nothing, until-

“Kids,” Matt grabs Frank’s arm in an iron grip, eyes wild and blazing. “There are kids in the basement.”

Immediately, Frank swears. “Goddamn- how many? Anyone with them?” He fumbles for whatever he put in his pocket earlier, but he doesn’t pull it out all the way. “What’s the plan, Red?”

Matt wonders if Frank has realized that he tends to call him ‘Red’ more than anything else whenever they get stuck in one of these ‘situations’, but he doesn’t really have the time to dwell on it. Later, maybe. When (if) things settle down. “Around half a dozen. I don’t think there’s anyone else there, but it’d be hard to tell from this far away.” He tries to create an idea of the building’s architecture, piecing together its structure from the way the sound and vibrations flow through it. “There’s a stairwell inside by the corner of the building closest to us. We can go through there, and once we’re closer I should be able to tell exactly who’s down there.”

“Alright.” Frank hasn’t let go of whatever is in his pocket, and Matt has a slowly sinking realization about what exactly it is. His distress must be visible on his face because Frank immediately lets go of it and cradles Matt’s face instead. “Red, I swear to you I won’t hurt anyone you don’t want me to. I’m playing by your rules, I promise.”

Matt inhales shakily. He wishes he could explain why the cold dread rose up so violently in his chest at the possibility of Frank going around and murdering whoever, even if they deserved it, but he honestly has no idea. All he knows is that Frank’s promise to do what he says, to let Matt maintain the little control they have in their situation, placates him more than a handful of words probably should.

“I won’t bring it in if you don’t want me to, but it’ll probably be a lot riskier if I’m unarmed and something goes down,” Frank tells him. His hands are still cupping the sides of Matt’s face, a sort of warmth and weight that keeps Matt grounded more than anything else.

He considers it, but it doesn’t even take a second before he’s shaking his head. “I trust you. And I don’t want you to get hurt because you were trying to make me feel better.”

Frank shrugs. He lets his hands fall back to his sides, leaving the space they had occupied cold from the loss. “If you say so.”

“I do. You ready to head in?” He gestures toward the building, anticipation building as Frank nods. “Then let’s go.”

*

Slowly descending the stairs is probably the most nerve-wracking thing Matt has ever done, and Matt has done a lot of nerve-wracking things.

With each step closer they take, the sounds of everything in the basement become marginally more clear. It allows Matt to get a better understanding of everything in the space, but it also makes it far more crucial that he doesn’t miss even the slightest of signs which may indicate that someone dangerous is there.

But even as they hesitate behind the door that separates the staircase from the basement, Matt can’t seem to hear any potential opponents. He almost thinks that he’d be less worried if he had heard the leader or someone else pacing the floor - now, he’s constantly worrying that he missed something and it will lead to their eventual suffering.

Eventually, though, they have to move. Matt sighs and tilts his head toward the door in a silent gesture, Frank nodding in understanding.

As quietly as he can, Matt eases the door open, and the two of them slip inside, taking in the cold, damp space and the way even the most shallow and hoarse of breaths seem to echo endlessly against the walls. 

He half expects to be attacked the moment he steps farther than a foot away from the door, so when that doesn’t happen, he lets out a tiny sigh of relief. He and Frank move further into the room, Matt leading them to the closest child.

The kid is- not right. Their body is far too cold and quiet to be normal, and he knows by Frank’s sharp intake of breath that they don’t make a pretty sight either. But their heartbeats are still there, still steady, and that’s enough to comfort Matt for their kids’ health. But there’s no telling how long it would last for.

He inches closer, freezing as he catches a whiff of what seems to be a combination of different herbs and chemicals, and he does his best to follow it to its source.

It leads him to a cut in the kid’s arm.

He jolts back, nearly slamming into Frank who had been following close behind him, heart pounding in his chest. All too late does he recognize the tang of dried blood spread throughout the room, of how a lack of enough blood and circulation would cause the kids’ body temperatures to drop.

“They’re doing something to the kids,” he says, barely capable of keeping his voice above a whisper. It feels like he’s about to shatter, ready to break and burst into a million jagged pieces, all lost and alone. “They’re doing something to their blood, injecting them with something and- and then draining them of it.”

Frank’s heart trips over itself, alarm and rage coloring his body in bright reds and oranges, almost white-hot compared to the complete void of warmth from the children. “Christ,” he murmurs. “Alright, do we call the police or what? What the hell are we supposed to do now?”

Matt shrugs helplessly. He can’t tear most of his concentration away from the kid in front of him, who doesn’t even seem to be that much younger than Matt himself. It’s unsettling and terrifying , and if Matt wasn’t sure he was going to beat whoever was responsible for this into a bloody pulp before, he sure as hell is now.

“How about this: we go ahead and-” A sudden noise makes Matt slam his hand over Frank’s mouth to silence him.

Several long moments pass as Matt strains his ears to pinpoint the cause of the sound before he realizes that whatever caused it is getting closer.

“Fuck- someone’s coming, we have to hide!” Matt drags Frank to one of the larger support beams, which has several crates and boxes haphazardly shoved next to it. They crouch down together, hearts beating furiously, as they hold their breaths and prepare for the worst.

A steady voice - one Matt’s only heard once before - fills the space moments before the quietest of steps do, and Matt’s grip on Frank tightens even more if that was possible.

“So long as the devil and the Chaste are working together, it will be difficult to get any more. We must avoid making careless mistakes- we cannot afford to waste our supplies.”

Soft brushing of fabric against fabric - a nod, if Matt had to guess.

“We shouldn’t have to worry about the children. If anyone were to take them, they should not hesitate before killing whoever is attempting to protect them as soon as they are able.”

Matt barely manages to hold back his gasp, and he forces his shaking hands to press against the ground in fear that he might accidentally knock something over with how violently they’re trembling. What they’re talking about is completely new to him and utterly terrifying. It occurs to him, surprisingly for the first time, that they’re seriously out of their depth.

“We will work with… Our allies only as long as they remain useful to us. Associating with the likes of such people will only lead to our involvement in trivial and distasteful matters. As soon as we gain control, we must shift our relationship so we no longer take orders- from anyone.”

Both Matt and Frank are frozen in their hiding spot, and Matt would feel bad for Frank not being able to understand what was being said if he wasn’t busy focusing on trying to figure out what exactly the group was trying to achieve. Elektra had said they wanted money, power, and resources, but she didn’t exactly go into details after that.

“If we want to defeat the Chaste and gain complete control, then we must-” A phone rings, cutting the man off. He sighs. “That is all. We will continue as discussed and meet as needed.”

More fabric rustling, then the slightest pad of cloth and rubber against the ground, which fades away quietly.

The leader answers his phone, scowl evident from the harsh way he speaks. “Yes?”

They’re close by enough that Matt can hear the other side of the conversation, which he’s grateful for. It’s always much more difficult when you only have half a conversation to go off of.

“On the docks- they took out entire crew,” the voice hisses. “How the hell are we supposed to sit back and do nothing?”

“Just do as you’re told,” the man says. The tension in his voice is rising, and Matt would feel bad for whoever’s on the other end of the phone if he didn’t recognize it to be the Russian he had talked with way back when. “Follow the plan.”

“Fuck your plans! You’re hiding something, I know you are, and I’m tired of all your secrets! I wanna know what the hell is going on, who this Devil man is, and why you-”

The man all but slams his finger against his phone screen to end the call, then storms out of the room, his anger making his footsteps far heavier than usual and thus significantly easier to track.

Matt waits until he’s a couple of blocks away from the building before relaxing. “We’re clear.”

Frank lets out a wheeze. “I just lost eighty years of my life right there, fucking hell.”

“You’re telling me.” It’s like all of the strength in his body has suddenly vanished, leaving him an exhausted, confused blob. Even still, it’s not safe for them to stay there, and Frank gives the kids a lingering look before following Matt back out the way they came.

“What the hell was he saying back there, anyway? All I could understand was some shit about some devil and the ‘chaste’. I’m assuming something he said had to do with why you’re not dragging those kids out there yourself.”

“Whatever they did to them, they’d kill whoever tries to help them,” Matt tells him quietly. “As much as I’d like to help them, I don’t think there’s anything I can do right now, not without learning more about what was done to them.”

Frank whistles lowly. “Damn. Alright, well, what about the other stuff?”

“I guess the thing they’re taking from the kids is their drugged blood, and it seems to be something rare but helpful for whatever they’re planning to do. Their allies - I assume the Russians and the Albanians, at the very least - don’t seem to be the crowd they want to stick around for a long time. It’s only a relationship of convenience, I guess.”

“What about the stuff about ‘chaste’?”

“The Chaste is- it’s the group Stick belongs to. They’re sworn enemies of the Hand, which- oh. Fuck, I guess that’s the Japanese group.” Matt groans. “Anyway, the guy was saying that they wanted to completely destroy the Chaste and gain power, or something.”

“Huh.” Frank huffs. “Well, I’d say that’s enough information to call it a day. What’s the plan now?”

Matt wants to do more, wishes he could confront someone or go somewhere or try to accomplish some sort of task, but there really isn’t anything he can do in the meantime that he wouldn’t end up screwing over because he doesn’t know the full picture. He sighs. “No plan. I don’t- there’s nothing we can do.” His voice lowers as he starts to curl in on himself, frustration and pain and restlessness all swirling together in the pit of his stomach until it feels just like the void from the strange object he had felt earlier. “There’s nothing we can do,” he repeats.

Frank rests a hand on his shoulder for a moment, then lifts it in favor of pulling Matt in for a hug. “Hey, whatever the hell’s going on, we can handle it. Even besides you and me, we’ve got help, you know? So don’t worry your pretty head about it, Murdock.” He punctuates his last statement with a gentle tap to Matt’s temple. “We’ll figure it out.”

Matt doesn’t quite believe it - doesn’t see how it’s possible, no matter how much he wants it - but there’s a firmness to Frank’s words like he’s certain of it.

Matt lets his head loll forward to rest against Frank’s shoulder, and he takes slow, deep breaths until he no longer feels like he’s falling apart at the seams. If Frank is able to believe it, that can be enough for him. It has to be.

Chapter Text

Neither Matt nor Frank are particularly obvious with their affection, especially physically, but it still only takes ten minutes of them sitting next to each other during lunch for Foggy to gasp loudly and point an accusing finger at Matt’s direction. Karen’s out with the flu and Brett and Marci both have to make up tests from when they had the flu, so it’s only the three of them for today.

Truthfully, he had been planning on telling Foggy earlier that day, but Foggy had been too busy with talking to his debate team and teacher to meet up before class. And then classes had happened, and his brain was too full of information he definitely won’t use even ten years from now to remember what he wanted to say.

“You bastard ,” Foggy hisses. “Matt Murdock, I can’t believe you.”

Frank makes an alarmed noise. “Hey, watch it-”

“No, don’t, it’s fine.” Matt pokes Frank’s shoulder until he relaxes. “Uh, Foggy, I meant to tell you earlier, but I forgot. Anyways, um, we’re- you know.” He gestures vaguely between Frank and himself.

Foggy groans. “At least tell me I’m not the last one to know?”

“Actually, I think you’re the first.” Matt gives a sheepish grin. “Neither of us really have a huge friend group, you know.”

“Second,” Frank corrects. “Sarah figured it out. Said I looked less angsty, or whatever.”

Foggy huffs out a laugh at that and Matt relaxes once he realizes that his friend was never actually upset, just caught off guard and vaguely amused. “Sounds about right. Well, congratulations, I guess? Hopefully, now you two will start making better and less self-sacrificing decisions.” He gives a half-hearted kick to Matt’s knee.

“Of course,” Matt says. He isn’t quite sure if he’s lying or not, which would probably be more concerning if he had the energy to care.

Foggy can’t seem to decide if he wants to sigh or laugh and eventually settles for a strange exhale that makes Frank try but fail to hide a snicker. “Screw you, Castle. But seriously. Congrats, you two. Frank, you better make Matt happy or I’ll sic Karen and Marci on you. Matt, make Frank happy or I’ll force you to go on a camping trip with my mom. We clear?”

“We’re clear,” Matt and Frank reply.

Foggy nods. “Good. Alright, now that that’s all out of the way, how exactly did it happen? Who confessed to who? And Matt, I thought you were waiting for everything to settle down?”

Matt shrugs. “I was, but Frank said we should talk, so we did.”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Frank agrees.

“Oh, come on! No grand romantic gestures or serenades?” Matt shakes his head and Foggy groans. “Not even a little poem reading?”

“I don’t think Matt’s the poem type,” Frank notes after a moment. He turns to face Matt, head tilted to the side and resting against his palm. “Are you?”

Matt thinks about it for a moment then shakes his head again. “I’m more interested in longer texts, I think. But I can enjoy a good poem.”

Frank makes a thoughtful, considering noise. “I’ll keep it in mind, then.”

Foggy fake gags across the table. “That was disgusting, please keep any and all reminders that you two have an adorable and healthy relationship to a minimum.”

“What was that?” Matt asks, tone saccharinely sweet. “Keep up the affection? Well, why didn’t you say so earlier?” He leans into Frank’s space teasingly but can’t help the giggle that comes out when Frank wraps an arm around him and pulling him closer.

“Eww,” Foggy says. But there’s no denying the smile that Matt can hear in his voice or the way his body is essentially screaming how happy he is.

With Foggy grinning at him from across the table and Frank’s comforting presence snug beside him, Matt thinks things aren’t so bad after all.

*

Micro ends up calling them later that day, as Matt and Frank are walking to Frank’s apartment after school and complaining about the weird smell coming from the science lab. Immediately, the mood drops from being lighthearted and optimistic to an almost suffocating amount of apprehension.

“Hey, is Matt there?” Micro asks as soon as Frank picks up the phone. Once Frank gives the affirmative, he continues. “Alright. So I was able to find some stuff based on the pictures you sent me, but, uh. You might want to sit down. You all close to wherever you’re heading?”

“We’re a couple of minutes away,” Frank answers. “How much were you able to find out?”

“Okay, uh, here’s the thing- wait, hold on.” A pause, followed by some muffled words- Micro likely covering the microphone on his phone as he talks to someone near him. “Actually, can I meet up with you guys? This stuff is probably best shared in person.”

Frank nudges Matt, who gives a jerky nod to show his agreement.

Frank sighs. “Yeah, that’s fine by us. Head over to my place, alright?”

“Alright. See you in fifteen.” The line clicks, and Frank pockets his phone.

“Well, fuck,” Frank murmurs. Matt intertwines a shaking hand with one of Frank’s, who gives him a gentle squeeze in return.

Things may not be getting better anytime soon, but at least they’ve still got each other.

*

They only end up waiting a few minutes for Micro to arrive, the sweat and stress coming off him in waves showing just how frantically he had tried to get there as quickly as possible.

“Damn, do you want a glass of water?” Frank asks, but he’s already grabbing a cup and filling it before Micro can even catch his breath.

Micro nods and accepts the cup with a sigh. “Thanks, man. I wanted to get here as soon as I could. Alright, so, where to begin.” He settles down onto one of the couches and pulls out his laptop, clicking around until he finds whatever it is he was looking for. “Okay, so let me start off by saying that when I first tried to find literally anything about the stuff you sent me, basically nothing related showed up.”

“Nothing? Are you sure?” Frank asks.

“Positive,” Micro says. “But then I remembered about that Stick guy, who’s apparently involved in this whole mess, and the weird cult group he was part of, so I started trying to see if there was any overlap with the two, and that’s when things started to finally come up.” He turns his laptop around to face Matt and Frank, pointing to the screen with his finger. “See this? I-”

“Can you describe the relevant shit on the screen?” Frank asks dryly. “Matt can’t exactly see what you’re trying to point out.”

“Oh, fuck, sorry.” Micro swears some more under his breath. “But basically, you know how Stick’s part of the Chaste or whatever, right? And their sworn enemy is the Hand? Well, I’m not sure about the Chaste, but it seems like the Hand’s been around since, like, forever.”

Matt stills. “What do you mean by forever?”

“Like, I was able to trace back a shit ton of different news articles and stuff that mention a group or holding or person that gets linked back to the Hand. The earliest I found was from the 1800s. And this is gonna sound crazy, I know, but you know the weird pod thing you guys found?”

“The one with ‘resurrection’ written on it, right?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.” Micro takes a deep breath and spreads his arms, palms facing them. “Okay, so I have a theory. The Hand’s been around for a really long time, possibly forever. You found a weird ‘resurrection’ pod at one of their hideouts-”

“Not a pod,” Matt corrects. He doesn’t realize how he didn’t put the pieces together until now, but he finally can identify the slight smell that had come from the void of the inside. It smelled like chemicals and blood, a cocktail that reminded him of nothing else besides death. “An- urn, or something.”

“You’re saying they put people in that thing to bring them back to life, and that’s how they’ve been around for so long?” Frank asks incredulously. “Jesus Christ.”

“It doesn’t make sense, I know, but Frank- the weird chemical smell from the kids, them taking their blood, I think that’s why. Whatever they did, they’re using it to help bring back their members from the dead.”

“So we’re just completely fine with believing that it’s possible to resurrect people, no questions asked?” Frank asks.

Matt shrugs. “I don’t get how it’s possible either, but it seems that however it works, it does.”

Frank rubs a hand over the top of his head with a sigh. Eventually, he lets his hand fall back to his lap after a moment. “Okay. Let’s go with it for now. David, what else did you find?”

“Honestly, that was the main thing. I was gonna mention the shit about draining kids’ blood for their little resurrection ritual, but apparently you guys already knew that. Oh, and Matt, you’ve got a new nickname, have you heard?”

Matt tilts his head to the side. “A new nickname? What do you mean?”

“I mean, you were already making a name for yourself with your little vigilante hobby, but courtesy of a couple of journalists you saved, they’ve given you the name ‘Daredevil’.” Micro shrugs. “Apparently the criminal part of the city just calls you the devil, though.”

Frank chokes on his spit. “The devil? Man, now that’s unexpected. How the hell did they come up with ‘Daredevil’, though?”

Matt winces. “My, uh, risky behavior didn’t go unnoticed, I guess, let’s just put it at that.”

“I honestly wish I was surprised,” Frank says after a moment. “David, anything else?”

Micro shakes his head as he types away at his keyboard. “I’m still looking into some more stuff, but there’s nothing super concrete to share. Y’all want me to leave?”

“Yes,” Frank says bluntly. “Tell Sarah I said hi.”

“You’re a dick,” Micro tells him, but he still packs up his things and heads to the door. “Congrats on not ignoring your feelings anymore, by the way.” He hightails it out of there before either of them can get a chance to respond, leaving them gaping at his retreating figure in silence.

After a few more moments of silence, Frank clears his throat. “Right. Uh, do you still want to go over History notes? Or we can just chill.”

As much as Matt would like to just hang out with Frank and do nothing, he’s a bit too on-edge to be able to. “Let’s study,” he decides. “We can have dinner after?”

“Sounds good.” Frank grabs some things from his backpack and sets it on the table. “Let’s aim for passing, yeah?”

Matt grins. “You better up your standards, Mister Castle. We’re getting B’s at the very least.”

Frank knocks their shoulders together as he laughs, and suddenly the atmosphere is much lighter than it had been just a few moments before.

The air seems far easier to breathe, no longer feeling like it’s suffocating him slowly with each inhale he takes. Matt doesn’t think he’d ever stop being grateful for everything Frank’s done, but he’s certain he won’t ever stop appreciating just how much easier everything is to handle when Frank’s around.

He’s like a security blanket almost, providing Matt with comfort and a sense of calm even in the face of the most horrible evil the world has to offer, and Matt loves him all the more for it.

Matt presses a quick kiss to Frank’s cheek before turning away and booting his computer up, cheeks quickly warming.

Frank gapes at him silently for a few moments before laughing breathlessly and giving a gentle kiss to the side of Matt’s temple, warm and soft and altogether lovely.

His life is far from easy, but he thinks he might be able to handle it after all.

Chapter Text

Micro ends up updating them on some more things that he found out, namely the arrangement between the Russian, Albanian, and Japenese crime groups which had apparently only started relatively recently. It’s hard to tell what exactly caused it, or to what extent the relationship goes, but it’s definitely something significant.

He and Frank mull over the information together, trying to discuss their next move but ultimately not coming up with any concrete plans.

But eventually, Matt grows far too restless to stay still. He stands up in a rush, only barely avoiding knocking several things over as he does so. “I can’t sit here and do nothing,” he says, only the slightest quiver in his voice. “I’m going to go back to those kids, and I’m going to help them.”

“Don’t be so rash,” Frank scolds him, but Matt’s done following everyone else’s rules.

“I’m leaving. If you want to come with me, then you can, but if not- back off.” He shoves his coat on and slips through the open window without another word, an angry and bitter sort of satisfaction rising up in his chest at the shocked silence he caused.

Getting to the building is far faster this time now that he knows where it is, and it’s only a handful of minutes before he’s arrived. There isn’t anyone there this time either, but it only helps to boost Matt’s adrenaline. He doesn’t know how long he has until someone comes back to the building, so he has to move fast.

He enters the same way he did last time, descending the stairs and taking quiet, even steps across the basement floor to the closest heartbeat. It’s even more sluggish than it had been before, serving as a reminder of how much the kids have all already gone through, and how with each day that goes by without action, the closer to death they get. Matt’s let it go on for long enough, but not anymore.

He lets his hand hover over the child’s body in a quick scan before determining that there’s nothing holding or pinning them down. They’re definitely unconscious, heartbeat not changing in the slightest even as Matt’s hand sweeps over the front of their face.

*

Matt’s in his shower.

The water is freezing cold, but he can’t even feel it- he can’t feel anything, not even where the freezing water pools by his legs and feet before going down the drain. And oh, that means he’s sitting, doesn’t it?

He wants to push himself to his feet, but he can’t quite muster the energy, and he remains seated on the hard material, shivering and numb.

He’s so, so numb.

But no- he’s forgetting something. He’s numb for a reason, isn’t he? Something happened, something bad , and now he’s trying to do something about it. He has no idea what happened or what he’s doing- why doesn’t he know?

What did he forget?

He can’t remember.

He can’t remember.

He sits there, rocking back and forth and only vaguely aware of the water hitting his back and sliding down his clothes. (He’s still wearing his clothes? Why didn’t he take them off?)

He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there, how long it’s been since whatever happened, all he knows is the aching coldness that’s threatening to swallow him whole. It’s like a poor imitation of the void from inside the urn, a gaping chasm within his chest that feels like it can’t be filled no matter what he does.

After what could be either an eternity or just a few seconds, there’s something that pulls him up and away from the heavy stream.

He scrambles to gain his balance but ultimately fails, and he lets himself be half carried, half dragged out of the shower and onto his bathroom floor. Something soft presses against his skin - a towel? - and he shivers at the sensation.

There’s a voice echoing, almost muted, through the silence- saying something he can’t quite pick out. Eventually, though, it gets clear, and Matt can finally hear the specific words echoing against the tiles.

“I’m just gonna warm you up, okay? Your skin’s almost blue, Matt, and I have no clue how long it’s been like that.”

The towel presses against his head and clothes, patting and rubbing him dry. The towel is switched out for another one not too long later, the moisture finally starting to seep away.

Ever so slowly, his senses start to come back to him, and he can finally pinpoint the distinct body wash and freshly cured meat that clings to Foggy’s skin, can recognize the familiar pattern of his friend’s heartbeat.

“You’re freaking me out a little bit, not gonna lie- what the hell happened to you?”

“I don’t-” Matt gasps out, “I don’t know-”

“Shh, it’s okay Matt, don’t worry,” Foggy tells him. His voice shakes almost as much as his hands, but even still he doesn’t stop patting Matt down and stroking his hair. “I’ve got you Matt, it’s okay.”

Matt doesn’t know entirely what the man had meant when he said the kids not hesitating before killing whoever was trying to help them, but so far it seemed to be a bunch of bullshit. The kids remained completely unresponsive as he moved them out of the building- even though all of them were relatively small, he carried them one at a time to try and avoid aggravating whatever injuries that might have.

He can’t exactly bring them somewhere safe since it would be too far away to take them individually, but he’s able to drop them off at a table in a nearby park only half a block away.

He’s gotten three of the kids situated and is starting to lift up a fourth when he hears something that catches his attention. He sets the kid back down so he can focus better on the sound.

“Hey, kid, what are you doing here? Are your parents- hey, what are you- kid-” The person’s voice gets increasingly more panicked with each word, and it sets off all kinds of alarm bells in Matt’s head.

He swears and runs out of the building and toward where he had put the kids, freezing as the overwhelming smell of blood flows through the air.

Four slow heartbeats take their time echoing and filling the silence, and Matt almost thinks that maybe one of the kids opened up one of their wounds before he remembers that he had only brought three kids out and that one of the heartbeats is slowing at a terrifying pace.

He stumbles forward to the source, falling to his knees as he attempts to catch the body before it falls. He feels something warm and liquidy seep onto his hands, his clothes, clinging to every bit of him within reach.

The tang of copper is almost unbearable, bitter and strong and getting increasingly worse as it spreads and spreads and spreads.

And it’s an all too familiar experience - the blood flowing without a single sign of stopping, the pulse slowing to a stop, and each labored breath coming shorter and shorter until there’s nothing left- just a still-warm body and a mountain full of regrets.

He’s been through this before- a long time ago, back when he had been training under Stick, when he was still desperate to meet all of the man’s expectations regardless of what it cost him.

He remembers Stick’s voice, mocking and echoing in his head, claiming he just needed to get his feet wet, and placing a long blade into his palm. He remembers driving his hand forward, past resistance, feeling and smelling blood permeate the air.

He remembers life fading beneath his fingertips, knowing he could’ve stopped at any point but didn’t. He remembers killing.

Matt sobs, body shaking with all the emotions he’s been trying his damndest to ignore for the longest time. All he can do is let himself cry and be held, praying for something he can’t even verbalize.

He just wants everything to stop.